The legal process can be overwhelming and extremely emotional for victims and witnesses of crime. It’s not easy for anyone to relive such a difficult time in their life but it’s even more challenging when you have to share those details with complete strangers, in a courtroom. Lancaster County Courthouse was determined to make the process easier for these individuals, who have involuntarily become part of the justice system, so on February 14, 2018, they hired Tresi, a yellow Labrador. Tresi is a courthouse companion dog and her primary role is to provide comfort and emotional support to victims and witnesses of crime, as well as their families.
Lancaster County’s DA, Craig Stedman, first learned about courthouse companion dogs after speaking with the DA at Centre County Courthouse. Centre County shared how beneficial a companion dog was for their program and recommended Lancaster County speak with Canine Partners for Life (CPL). After a couple years of planning, going through the interview process and training with CPL, they received their perfect match on Valentine’s Day.
Tresi quickly stole the hearts of everyone in the courthouse, from sheriffs to judges, but the staff witnessed just how valuable Tresi would be after only a week on the job. Tresi was brought to a meeting where difficult news was being delivered to a family. She was off-leash in the enclosed room so she could visit with everyone. As the news was being delivered, one of the family members became very emotional. Tresi, without being given a command, immediately went to that person’s side and put her head on his lap. She stayed there and let the person pet her for several minutes. When he was done petting her, she laid on his feet and never left his side. Since that moment, Tresi has continued to amaze the staff and will always seek out the people who need her assistance the most.
No day for Tresi is ever the same – her schedule changes based on what trials are going on and who can benefit most from her presence. She may meet with victims, she could provide comfort to witnesses, she attends meetings with families and some days, she just provides moral support to the staff, who understandably need that canine comfort as well. When the day ends, she goes home with Karin, an employee from the courthouse, so she can wind down, play, and get a good night’s rest.
Karin, Tresi’s handler says, “It’s hard to imagine what life at the courthouse was like before Tresi. She brings out the best in people. She provides encouragement and helps people just open up to talk about their feelings.” Tresi has helped hundreds of people feel more comfortable and prepared to face the legal system. She brings a calming presence to the Lancaster County Courthouse and she does it all with just a wag of her tail and a touch of her paw.