New ‘courtroom dog’ goes to work in Johnson County to assist children in trials

JOHNSON COUNTY – The newest member of the Johnson County Prosecutors office is only two years old, but he’s already seen as a valuable asset for the criminal justice system.

The prosecutors office announced they are now employing a Lab-Retriever mix named Nanook as the county’s new courtroom facility dog. Nanook will be used as a calming presence to help crime victims, especially children, to open up and describe their painful experiences before and during trials.

Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Bland said Nanook’s soothing presence can be felt as soon as he walks into a room.

“Everybody’s guard just comes down a notch,” Bland said. “It opens everybody up. He’s been introduced to a couple of the judges, multiple court staff. And as soon as he walks in the room, there’s a smile.”

Nanook recently completed training through the Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN) and is being familiarized with the Johnson County Courthouse. Bland said he will spend several more months getting Nanook accustomed to meeting new people every day around the courthouse and courtrooms. Nanook has also been introduced to several Johnson County judges and court staff.

“It’s our intent and our desire, and we’ve talked to a few judges in the county, that he will actually be able to go to trial with the children,” Bland said. “So they will be able to see him here, it’ll be a constant.”

Bland said the idea to bring in a “courtroom dog” came from a recent case involving a juvenile crime victim who had trouble talking about her experience with prosecutors who were building the case against the defendant. A member of the prosecutors office brought her own dog into a meeting with the girl. The dog’s presence helped the girl to talk about what had happened, providing prosecutors the information they needed to proceed with the case against the defendant.

Nanook will be used in much the same way.

“We can’t necessarily send another juvenile in the room to talk to them,” Bland said. “It has to be an adult, it’s an authoritative figure regardless of how you dress it up.  But by bringing Nook into that room, it gives the child something else to focus on. It gives the child someone else to talk to, really.”

But children aren’t the only ones who may meet Nanook. Bland said Nanook was recently introduced to an elderly victim of a violent crime. Nanook’s soothing demeanor was beneficial in helping the woman to talk freely about what had happened to her, Bland said.

During the day, Nanook will spend the day in the prosecutors office. Mostly under a desk at Bland’s feet. At night, Nanook will go home with Bland as a new member of the family.

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