ALBUQUERQUE – Looking adorable is only part of the job description.
Also required is the ability to remain calm in public spaces and to impart that peaceful feeling to others, particularly children.
Filling the job openings are Lucy and Kasey 2, golden retrievers who are being trained as “courthouse facility” dogs.
The program involving the dogs is an offshoot of “Kasey Says,” in which a trained dog, Kasey 1, goes into schools and becomes the trigger for discussions on a host of topics, all of which begin with “Kasey says” – as in “Kasey says don’t do drugs,” or “Kasey says don’t drink alcohol.”
“While working with this program I had the opportunity to go to Haven House and other places that asked me to talk to children who had been abused,” said Lt. Dean Alexander of the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Posse and a special agent with the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
“It became apparent that we needed a dedicated facility K9 dog, so when children who have been abused and are in the court system, when they give depositions, attend hearings or there’s a trial, the facility dog goes with the usually upset child and serves as a calming presence that allows the child to tell what happened,” Alexander said.
Alexander, who developed the Kasey Says program in 1999 and the facility program 18 months ago, owns and trained Kasey 1 and her sister Lucy, both 5.
Kasey 1 will continue as the furry face of the school-based program, but Lucy will be the go-to dog in the 13th Judicial District, which includes Sandoval, Valencia and Cibola counties.
Meanwhile, a second dog, Kasey 2, a year-old male English golden retriever, is being trained as a courthouse facility dog for the 9th Judicial District, which includes Curry and Roosevelt counties in eastern New Mexico.
Facility dogs are specifically trained to work in the environment of a particular facility – in this case a courthouse – “because you don’t want a dog in the courtroom that keeps popping up and looking around or wants to greet people,” Alexander said. “They are trained to accompany a child into the courtroom and sit quietly by the child, and to be as unobtrusive as possible to a judge or a jury.”
Barbara Romo, deputy district attorney in Sandoval County, said she expects that Lucy will be used extensively in cases involving children in all three counties in the 13th District.
“For the most part, judges are OK with the facility dogs in the courtroom,” and regard them much the same way as service dogs that are used by people attending courthouse proceedings, she said.
Lucy is on loan to the 13th Judicial District until such time as it can purchase its own dog for the facility program, Alexander said.
Kasey 2 is owned by the 9th Judicial District, but lives with and is cared for by handler Miranda Gonzales, a senior victims advocate with the DA’s Office in Clovis. “He goes to work with me and goes home with me. He is part of my family,” she said.
Kasey 2 is being trained by Tracie Dulniak, owner of K9 Rehab Institute in Rio Rancho. She is donating her services and will provide free training for other dogs that enter the facility program in the future.
“Training involves getting the dogs socialized to being around other dogs and other people,” Dulniak said. “So we take them to libraries and schools and courtrooms to get them acclimated to those kinds of situations. We want to make sure they are completely obedient and perfectly calm so they don’t interfere with court proceedings.”
Ultimately, she said, the goal is “to provide a presence for the child, and when the dog is calm, that’s transferred to the child.”