FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — The newest employee of the Bristol County District Attorney’s office stands on four legs.
Chief, a Black Labrador Retriever, joined the District Attorney’s Office from NEADS World Class Service Dogs, a nonprofit located in Princeton. He recently graduated after passing his exams at 18 months old.
Dogs trained in the program live with an inmate at a local correction facility during the week as part of the nonprofit’s Prison PUP Program. On weekends, volunteer weekend puppy raisers train each dog by bringing them to a variety of social settings.
The dogs are taken to various public spaces, like crowded restaurants, elevators and open stairways, office workspaces and on public transportation. They are also trained to be comfortable around children of all ages, as well as cats.
Samantha Dias, a forensic interviewer with the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office, is Chief’s handler. She said his job will be to provide support to children during forensic interviews at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Bristol County, which is a program of the Justice Resource Institute.
“As a forensic interviewer, we have to be a neutral party when talking to these children,” Dias said. “So, Chief is a really great way for us to be able to connect with children, provide them that support and comfort that we can’t verbally or physically show.”
Dias said the support is important because talking about allegations of any type of abuse, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, commercial sexual exploitation and/or being a witness to violence, is upsetting and often traumatic for children.
“He’s already been able to provide them with comfort and smiles, and it’s just really indescribable watching him interact with kids when they are kind of at such a confusing point in their lives where they don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Dias said. “He can provide them with that sense of safety that they are looking for.”
Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said having more support in the room makes it easier to prosecute child abuse cases, which he believes are ” some of the most serious and heinous cases” his office deals with. Dias believes Chief will be able to help hundreds of kids every year.
Quinn said in training, Chief has already shown he’s a valuable member of the team.
“A very distraught young woman was brought in to be interviewed, met with the dog, calmed down and provided important information with respect to her case,” Quinn said.
Chief is a pro at basic commands, but he can also bring a distressed child a box of tissues, or simply rest his head in a their lap.
“He also will lay on top of a child when directed, and it’s kind of like a weighted blanket, and he can give them that sense of pressure that is so important to kids,” Dias said.
When asked to “tell a secret,” Chief will also come up to one’s ear.
Beyond initial forensic interviews, Dias said Chief will be able to have some long lasting connections with children who then go on to the Children’s Advocacy Center’s therapy program.
“We want them to come in and not feel confused or feel that the Children’s Advocacy Center is a place that you just go to talk about terrible things that have happened in your life,” Dias said. “[It’s also] a place where you want to be with a guy [Chief] that you want to see.”