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Helper's helping paw calms courthouse visits


POSTED: Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 6:32pm

UPDATED: Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 6:50pm

The courtroom can be a very scary place for kids and victims who need to testify. That's why one East Texas county is turning to some furry and feathery companionship for help. The Nacogdoches County District Attorney's office has not one but two animals for those who need some support before going into court. Pickles the bird and Helper the dog.

About a year into Nacogdoches County District Attorney Nicole LoStracco's term, she realized they needed something to help take the stress off of their victims and witnesses. Something to ease their minds before testifying in court.

'' I read a lot about animals helping distress," said LoStracco. 

That is when they bought Pickles, the bird.

"She was wonderful for a couple of years and really did a great job with our victims and our witnesses and the kids loved her who were up here testifying so she really did help distress the people that were in our office."

But, they said Pickles became a  "teenager" and they realized they needed another comforting animal.

"As any teenager would do, they will lash out at the adults around them."

That's when they got 2-year-old Helper, a Labrador retriever.

"She's still very young, she's incredibly calm she knows about 40 commands. She's just a wonderful addition to the office," said LoStracco.  

It took about a year and a half to get the smiley yellow lab from Canine Companions for Independence. The plan was to rescue a dog which needed a home, then-train that dog themselves. But, that came with liability, working for a government agency. So, they looked into the Canine Companions for Independence, the oldest service dog company in the country. They went through a couple interviews and were able to get her.  She went through intense puppy training and is fulfilling her duties helping ease the nerves of people at the District Attorney's office. Helper lives with LoStracco and is a normal family pet but, during the day she puts on her vest and goes to work . They said she's been such a help to kids, victims and even county employees. They said they got the idea from the Smith County District Attorney's office that also have a service dog.

 "They didn't ask to be involved in this. They've always been able to tell their story but, it hasn't always been a happy friendly place for them to be awaiting their testimony. So, now at the very least they're able to play with the dog and look at the bird so while they're here doing what they don't want to do at least it's less of a stressful environment for them."

Now, the District Attorney's office couldn't imagine life without her.

"When we have victims or kids in the office, she talks to them, puts her head on their lap, lets them pet or lets them play with her, just in general is available for them as a soothing mechanism for the nerves they variably have when they come through our office," said LoStracco. 

So either hugging Helper, or petting Pickles, it's brought comfort to many, many people.

"Let people know there is a softer, friendlier side to the law enforcement community where it's not always scary when you have to be involved with us."

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