Kiersten, an Investigator for Domestic Violence and Sex Crimes, felt a courthouse dog would help victims find their voice in the courtroom. Too often, victims have a hard time reliving their experiences, especially in a courtroom full of strangers. Kiersten was determined to make the court system less stressful for victims so she began researching courthouse dogs online. She found two agencies in Pennsylvania that train dogs for this particular type of work. As soon as she called Canine Partners for Life and spoke with staff member, Mary Fertig, she knew CPL was the perfect match for her needs.
Turks, a yellow Labrador, has all of the qualities necessary to be an excellent companion in the courthouse. She can be sensitive to a person’s feelings, yet is confident enough to not react to an individual’s emotional distress. She has the ability to remain calm, and create a sense of comfort and security. She is a social dog but can easily transition from one person to the next.
In September 2014, Kiersten and Turks were introduced. The two had an instant connection (perhaps their red hair had something to do with it). After Turks spent a trial day at the office and a trial weekend in Kiersten’s home, the pair fell in love. On October 4, 2014, Turks started full time at the Montgomery County Courthouse.
A typical workday for Turks starts out by greeting fellow employees, prospective jurors, and anybody else who happens to be in the courthouse. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, PFA court is held so there are more children than usual in the courthouse. Turks stays VERY busy comforting all the children. Kiersten and Turks also attend preliminary hearings where they meet victims soon after the crime which helps to build a rapport with the victims, making the legal process easier. The pair is also present during Gagnon hearings, Habeas Corpus hearings, Bench Trials, and Turks can often be found sleeping at the feet of victims during sentencings.
One of Kiersten’s coworkers shared a story about the very first victim Turks worked with, an 8-year-old victim of sexual assault. “Kiersten helped me to surprise a young sex crimes victim with Turks and our comfort dog’s first day of witness work was a great success. As the child waited in the witness room to testify against her grandfather at trial, Turks sat on the floor and let the child pet her. At first, the dog was just sitting with her looking to Kiersten. Then Kiersten said “you’re here today to help this little girl” and Turks turned to face the little girl and put her paw up on the girls shoulder, gently. The girl’s mother and grandmother, who don’t speak English, saw the gesture and began to cry immediately. Kiersten and Turks definitely brought comfort to these witnesses as they prepared to testify against their grandfather, father, and husband.”
Turks has helped several victims but she has also made an impact on every employee at the Montgomery County Courthouse. Together, Kiersten and Turks are changing the public’s perception of the criminal justice system in Montgomery County, and making the legal process just a little bit easier for victims of crime.