A Life of Service—But Not as a Leader Dog

By Jennifer Wilkinson

Published in: Update - Issue 1 - 2012 »     Listen to Article ♫

Judge Joseph Sheeran (left), Chief
Prosecutor Kurt Asbury and Dodger.
Photo by John Keuvelaar courtesy of MyBayCity.com

Dodger was born to be a companion. But unlike many of his fellow canines that have undergone guide dog training, he is not half of a partnership. Instead, Dodger is using the service skills he learned at Leader Dog to be an ally for many children during a difficult experience.

Dodger is Michigan's newest canine victim advocate. His job is to interact with children involved in abuse and neglect cases in Bay County before and after their appearance in court. When it is deemed appropriate for the situation, Dodger may accompany the children to provide moral support during their time in the courtroom as well. Working with his handlers, Bay County's human victim advocates, Dodger provides an outlet to alleviate the emotional strain of the trial.

After being transferred out of Leader Dog training due to his trouble keeping an even pace on stairs, our Career Change team placed him with the Bay County Chief Prosecutor, Kurt Asbury. In November, Dodger began training in the courthouse to acclimate him with the new environment and his handlers. The following month, he carried out his new duties for the first time as he provided essential emotional support for a nervous young boy who had appeared in court to see his abuser sentenced.

Dodger is not the first advocate dog in
Michigan. Amos, another career changed
Leader Dog, was the pioneer of the Canine
Advocacy Program (CAP), founded by Dan
Cojanu. With Cojanu, who is also Amos'
handler, Amos has been serving in Oakland
County and neighboring county courts
since 2009. It is Amos' success in assisting
children that paved the way for Dodger to
become the newest member of CAP.
Photo by Carl Barretto of CB Photography

To make Dodger an official member of the Bay County Prosecutor's Office, he was sworn in by Circuit Judge Joseph Sheeran during an honorary ceremony on December 16. Dodger was dressed for the occasion in a collar and tie and with a little help from Asbury, who houses and cares for Dodger, he raised his right paw and nodded his head to accept his new position as an aide to child victims of abuse.

The role Dodger plays is a significant one. Appearing in court is stressful enough for adults, but for children confronting the people who victimized them, the anxiety can be overwhelming to the point that they are unable to testify. Dodger is a patient friend in this time of need, offering a comforting presence to support children through the experience.

Not every dog we train leaves our campus as a Leader Dog. A few work with police or customs, others find their place as beloved pets and some, like Dodger, take a different path in the life of service. Instead of being guiding eyes, Dodger is a shoulder to lean on, and we are proud to have been a part of his life.