At a recent courtroom hearing in Denver, a woman was experiencing secondary trauma as the triggering details of a court case were being discussed before a judge. But she had help by her side in the form of a canine companion. “Rylan,” a two-year-old Labrador/golden retriever mix that has been acquired by the Denver District Attorney's Office to work with victims, identified the woman out of everyone else in the courtroom as someone who needed his comfort. The woman later said she felt significantly calmed and reassured by the dog's presence.
“Somehow Rylan found her out of everyone,” recalls Senior Deputy District Attorney Jason Kramer. “He just had that instinct.”
At a press conference announcing Rylan's “hire” with the office today, December 27, Kramer said that the recent courtroom episode is exactly why the office obtained the pooch.
Kramer's boss, Denver DA Beth McCann, agreed. “Facility dogs like Rylan have a soothing impact on many people who have suffered trauma from criminal behavior, especially children,” she said. “Rylan is already providing comfort to survivors and helping them be more open when they recount the details of what happened to them. That in turn should lead to better case outcomes.”
Rylan does not come at any taxpayer expense, McCann adds. The highly trained dog, which is worth about $50,000, was provided for free by the nonprofit organization Canine Companions for Independence. But obtaining Rylan has been a long process. McCann said that when she was elected as district attorney, she already knew that other DAs use canines to help victims of violent or sexual crimes (Arapahoe County and Boulder County have service dogs, for instance), and McCann applied for a dog through Canine Companions for Independence roughly a year and a half ago.
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The review process involved selecting a handler with whom a dog would both work around the courthouse and live with. Senior Deputy DA Jason Kramer volunteered to shelter a dog; he had to go through multiple interviews, two weeks of training in which he learned more than forty commands that Rylan had already mastered, and grooming and feeding regimens before Rylan was given to him and the DA's office. Kramer is responsible for feeding and transporting Rylan to and from work.
For anyone familiar with retrievers, Rylan comes across as remarkably trained, and Kramer said he can stay calm in all sorts of environments (he doesn't even get distracted by squirrels!) and has already been a steady, reassuring presence for victims who are traumatized. At Thursday's press conference, reporters weren't allowed to pet Rylan because he wasn't “working" at that moment, but victims do get to pet and cuddle with the pup.
The Denver District Attorney's Office says that Rylan has been with approximately eleven victims so far, and there is a deliberate process by which judges will decide whether Rylan can be allowed in courtrooms — and even then, he will be hidden from juries — so that the dog won't affect due process. In cases in which a judge allows Rylan in the courtroom, the dog will be allowed to lie at the feet of victims as they testify. Rylan will also work with veterans in veterans' court, staff in juvenile court, and children in the Rose Andom Center.
Then, of course, there are Rylan's co-workers. He's already become the most popular staffer at the DA's office. “Rylan has brought a lot of cheer,” McCann said.