- Story by Dena Temple
There is a furry new face at the Hancock County Courthouse – and it’s not a judge, clerk or lawyer. Introducing Remi, Hancock County’s newest officer of the court.
Remi’s job title is officially “Courthouse Facility Dog,” helping to support children in Hancock County’s child welfare system as they face court appearances. She is actually a staff member of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Hancock County.
“Imagine being a child,” explains Remi’s handler and victim services coordinator, Naomi Strawhorn. “The courtroom may not look large to an adult, but to a child it’s enormous, very intimidating.
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The 2-1/2 year old black Labrador mix was born near Santa Rosa, California, where she came to the attention of Canine Companions for Independence. The organization breeds, raises and trains assistance dogs to help people with disabilities or to motivate and inspire people with special needs.
Remi grew up with “puppy raisers” certified by Canine Companions to prepare her to be a service animal, and she learned to respond to more than 40 different commands. She was then paired with her handler, Naomi, and the two were sent to Orlando for an intensive two-week, job-specific training program in July.
“The Orlando facility was great,” says Naomi. “The training was very COVID safe. Everyone wore masks, careful cleaning protocols were employed, and I felt comfortable.”
After passing a series of tests for both dog and handler, both were certified for the Courthouse Facility Dog program.
The estimated value of an expertly trained Canine Companions facility dog like Remi is $50,000, but the dogs are provided at no cost.
“When Remi appears in court, the child usually lights up,” says Stawhorn, smiling. “It’s no longer about intimidation and fear. The child thinks, ‘That dog is here just for me.’ He provides a calming presence for everyone – parents, family members and youth court staff.”
During Remi’s off hours he lives with Naomi, who provides the dog’s main training and care. Her medical care is furnished at no cost by Dr. Charles West of Pet Haven Veterinary Hospital.
“This program was the realization of over a year’s work,” says Strawhorn. “The first time you see a child in the courtroom when Remi walks in, and you watch their stress level go from a ten to a three, all the hard work is worth it.”