Say ‘Hello’ to Manny, Courthouse Facility Dog 12/30/14 12/30/14 8:29:04 AM
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Jean Brazda, Executive Director, Diversion Services, is Manny’s “foster mother.”
Say ‘Hello’ to Manny, Courthouse Facility Dog
By Dennis Friend
The Daily Record
You might not expect to encounter a large, friendly-looking dog when you walk into a conference room at the Sarpy County Courthouse. But the large dog sits there quietly, looks you over and extends a welcoming paw, waiting patiently until you reach out and shake that paw.
Say “Hello” to Manny, the Facility Dog. The Labrador Retriever mix has been a daily fixture at the courthouse since his arrival earlier this year.
Jean Brazda sits nearby. She’s the executive director of the Sarpy County Victim/Witness Unit and of the county’s Diversion Services. She also is Manny’s handler.
“He’s actually trained as a service dog. He was born and raised by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). He came here at two years old, fully trained. He knows 41 commands,” she said.
Manny’s a daily part of the Sarpy County Courthouse scene because County Attorney Lee Polikov had an idea a few years ago.
“We have a lot of child victims traumatized not only by criminal actions but also by the criminal justice system,” Polikov said. He began pushing for a courthouse dog, thinking a big friendly dog might go a long way to allay fears of those facing the often-intimidating court system.
A self-described “dog person,” Polikov also thought a friendly dog might be a comfort for those in need of the victim/witness unit and diversion services. He and Brazda started talking. They talked to judges and to court personnel. They sought and received a $10,000 seed grant from the Midlands Community Foundation, so “no county dollars are involved,” Brazda said.
“It took time,” Polikov said.
It took two years from the time Polikov and Brazda began the process, two years that involved applying to Canine Companions for Independence and “going through a number of steps,” Brazda said.
Those steps included getting approval for use of the dog at the courthouse, going through the multi-step application process designed, according to CCI, “to ensure success” and attending a one-week team training session at a CCI training center in Ohio.
According to Canine Companions for Independence, facility dogs are “expertly trained dogs who partner with a facilitator” and, as such, are “trustworthy in professional environments.”
Brazda also had to become a trained facilitator, Polikov said, because “the toughest thing is to find the right handler. Jean understands what we do.”
Facilitators are described by CCI as “working professionals responsible for handling and caring for the facility dog.”
Officially, Manny still is owned by Canine Companions, “but I’m his foster mother,” Brazda joked. Manny lives with the Brazda family and she can adopt him after he retires “in 10 or 12 years,” she said.
However, Manny “is not a pet. His whole purpose is to be a facility dog. Only 40 percent of the dogs trained will graduate from CCI,” Brazda said.
When the facility dog graduates from the training program, Canine Companions gives ongoing support and follow-up services, which are provided at no cost.
One of the most-valued qualities of a facility dog like Manny, CCI states on its website, is the feeling of unconditional love and acceptance the animal creates. “A well-mannered and highly trained facility dog encourages feelings of calm and security for clients” in settings such as courtrooms.
Manny’s job is, simply, to “create a sense of calmness” at the courthouse, Brazda said.
For instance, Manny might go to drug court to calm participants. He might be allowed to accompany a child called upon to testify in a trial.
“Some people don’t like dogs,” Polikov conceded, “but this has worked out so well. Manny has been valuable to us in high-profile cases, but I think he works every day. He’s trained not to be disruptive.”
Manny went to court with a 7-year-old girl who had to be called in to testify as a witness in a recent murder trial, sitting quietly to help calm the child. Brazda said Manny also was helpful in a recent sexual-assault trial.
“Jurors often find it traumatic, seeing graphic evidence. We brought Manny in after a child sexual-assault case to help the jurors. If told, he will go into the witness stand and stay there,” Brazda said.
Polikov pointed out that Manny also helps courthouse staff, since a difficult case “affects our own people. He’s a trained service dog, he follows instructions, he’s not a threat. There are a lot of ways he can be used.”
Lee Polikov, Sarpy County Attorney, and “Facility Dog” Manny.
Polikov initially did not know how often Manny might be called upon for comfort, so he was surprised at how often the dog has been useful.
“If a victim needs companionship in a trial, the dog can be there. He’s also been a great help during depositions and such. [Legal procedures] can be a tough time for victims. They’re vulnerable. Defense attorneys try to poke holes in testimony. The dog can help,” he said.
Brazda agreed, adding that Manny has been used in some capacity in 26 cases since he arrived May 19 for his first day of work.
“People are really surprised to see the dog,” she said.
Polikov believes Manny and the facility-dog program might just be “the best program going.” He’s generous with his praise, also lauding Brazda and Sarpy County.
“We’re fortunate to have Jean. She developed the program. The dog is a good tool, not just for children but for older people, too. I think we [Sarpy County] do things better than others. We got Manny and Jean together and I think everyone should have a well-trained and well-staffed unit,” Polikov said. Apparently, that includes a dog like Manny.
To learn more about Manny go to www.sarpy.com/Attorney/Manny.