Soon, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office will have a new employee to help support victims through the trauma of testifying in court. Only this team member won’t carry a briefcase and won’t be wearing a suit, but this four-legged team member will wear a red vest with “facility dog” written in bold letters.
Thanks to a recently awarded grant to the Assistance Dogs of the West through the United Way of Central New Mexico, next summer the District Attorney’s Office will get their second facility dog to provide emotional support for crime victims and staff members who experience secondary trauma as a result of their work.
“Service animals help bring people’s blood pressure down, and provide emotional support for people in need,” Leslie Ulibarri, Victim Advocate Administrator said. “[They] can do work in 10 minutes that it takes an advocate or prosecutor weeks to months to do.”
That work includes attending pre-trial interviews, victim court proceedings, victim interviews, victim transports to decrease stress and anxiety levels during the legal process or comforting staff members who may be stressed.
“People are so receptive to interacting with support dogs,” Ulibarri said. “They come in as a gentle emotional support rather than someone coming in a more official capacity.”
The Office currently has one facility service dog, Woodstock who has been a part of the team for nearly four years and has been instrumental in assisting hundreds of both adult and child victims navigate through the criminal justice system. His new colleague will go through nearly 2,000 hours of training before officially joining Woodstock to provide support to victims.
Michelle Padilla, Director of the Pre-prosecution Diversion Program said she fell in love with Woodstock the first time she met him and is excited about having another support animal in the Office.
“Bringing in an additional dog would be so beneficial to our office and our employees,” Padilla said. “[They] really help lessen the impact of stress and anxiety and bring a sense of comfort and happiness.”
Our Victim Advocates work directly with Courthouse Facility canines in an effort to mitigate trauma that crime victims experience as they navigate through the criminal justice system. At the same time the professional handlers are also simultaneously subjected to trauma and secondary trauma.
“We hear and see a lot of very traumatic experiences that people have gone through and that’s pretty heavy,” Padilla said. These support animals are essential in helping employees process secondary trauma they experience, she said.
The Office expects to get their newest support animal by August 2022.