SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Sometimes just being in the physical courtroom itself can be stressful for kids. And then when you factor in the content of what they may have to discuss in their testimony, overall, it can be a traumatic experience. Asking a child to recall horrific details in a courtroom full of strangers, with his or her abuser staring from across the room, is a painful and sometimes embarrassing situation.
Our main goal is to greatly reduce the understandable fears that a child has about entering the courtroom. Doing so is beneficial to everybody involved because when the child is calm and feeling more confident, it is likely that we can more effectively obtain justice.
As District Attorney I am proud to announce the creation of our Special Victims K-9 Unit (SVK9U), which will ultimately help us better serve our most vulnerable victims, our children. At a press conference today, following the announcement of our new unit, we introduced our two new facility dogs, Lupe and Dozer.
Lupe and Dozer are both black Labrador Retrievers who were selected for training as facility dogs based upon their temperament and interaction with children. Both dogs went through extensive training at the nationally-accredited Assistance Dogs of the West, located in Santa Fe, New Mexico (www.assistancedogsofthewest.org). Lupe was born Oct. 4, 2013, and Dozer was born April 11, 2013.
In April of 2015, Don Ross and Yesica Cioli were designated the primary handlers of Lupe and Dozer. Don and Lupe will be assigned to the Central Division and Yesica Cioli and Dozer will be assigned to the Desert-Mountain Division.
Research shows that just having dogs nearby has a calming effect and lowers blood pressure. The level of cortisol which is associated with stress, is actually lowered when dogs are present, and the production of serotonin, a chemical which promotes well-being, is increased. That said, our facility dogs will not only have a calming effect for just the victims, but for everyone, including the judge, jury, clerks, prosecutors and defense counsel.
What makes this program even more unique is that it is funded with unclaimed victim restitution funds. When criminal offenders are ordered to pay compensation to victims and the funds are unclaimed, the funds are then transferred into a special account that is designated for services to victims of crime.
The Special Victims K-9 Unit is really just an extension of the great work our victim advocates already do in court, working hand in hand to serve victims. Having this added component allows us to look back at the end of the day and say that we sought justice with compassion for our most vulnerable victims.