Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 2:43 pm | Fair 62º


Local News

Therapy Dog Provides Comfort to Victims, Witnesses in DA’s Office

At no cost to Santa Barbara County, Malvern uses his training to help foster a more compassionate environment

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley introduced the latest addition to her office this week, but he won’t be filing charges or prosecuting bad guys.

Instead, the new guy in the DA’s office in downtown Santa Barbara is more likely to give visitors a big sloppy kiss — and that’s just fine with Dudley.

That’s because Malvern is a highly trained therapy dog, whose mission is to provide comfort to victims and witnesses with psychological, physical or emotional trauma resulting from criminal conduct.

“This dog is just love, and in our system, we don’t have a lot of that,” Dudley said in explaining the role the 2-year-old Labrador retriever/golden retriever will play.

Malvern went through intensive training at Canine Companions for Independence in Oceanside to learn how to serve the needs of victims and witnesses.

He has a calm demeanor, and greats a visitor with a wag of his tail and a gentle nuzzle.

Malvern doesn’t belong to the county; he is owned by Donna Crawford, a volunteer attorney in Dudley’s office.

Crawford spent two weeks in Oceanside, at her own expense, earlier this year training to work with Malvern. She also pays all the costs for Malvern’s care and upkeep.

Crawford, who said she has no other pets, works primarily as a research attorney, and Malvern sleeps in a bed near her desk when he’s not working with victims and witnesses.

“At no additional cost to our county, Malvern’s calming presence will help create a more compassionate environment for victim and witnesses of crimes perpetrated against our most vulnerable population,” Dudley said.

The idea to bring a dog into the office was born from her own experiences as a prosecutor in cases involving children and other vulnerable victims and witnesses, Dudley said.

“When I was doing the kid cases in the office for so many years, I started bringing in stuffed animals,” she said. “And I noticed if I put the stuffed animals near children, they would inevitably at some point pick up a stuffed animal and hold on to it.”

Dudley said she found the same sort of reaction from adult victims and witnesses in domestic-violence and murder cases.

“I found that no matter how old somebody was, at some point if the situation became difficult … if I kept the stuffed animals nearby, they got touched at some point,” she said.

It was a natural progression, she said, to realize that dogs — which provide care and comfort in hospitals and other settings — could serve the same purpose in her office.

Malvern responds to various commands — to place a gentle paw on someone’s leg, for example, or to rest his head in someone’s lap. These actions amount to the canine version of a hug.

Based on the experience with Malvern in Santa Barbara, Dudley said she hopes to extend the program to Santa Maria and Lompoc.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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