Asked & Answered: Dan Cojanu on the Canine Advocacy Program

 By Steve Thorpe 

Legal News
 
The Canine Advocacy Program uses dogs to reduce stress for witnesses testifying in court. The nonprofit is run by Dan Cojanu, who  once worked as the Supervisor of the Victim Services Section at the Oakland County Prosecutors Office. After working with at-risk children in Michigan for 30 years, Cojanu started the Canine Advocacy Program in 2008.
 
Thorpe: How did the idea of using dogs in the court process originate? When did your program start?
Cojanu: The idea came from a co-worker who had read about the FLA program in Florida that utilizes dogs to help children. As I was getting ready to retire, this seemed like a good time to continue my work as a victim advocate as well as using my interest in dogs to continue to work in the court system. After researching the idea, we received a lot of support from judges, assistant prosecutors, advocates and law enforcement. We received our first canine in December of 2009 and "Amos" began work as a canine advocate in the spring of 2010.
Thorpe: Where do you find the dogs?
Cojanu: We only accept dogs in the court program from Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester, Mich. They select each and every dog assigned to our program looking at things like temperament, experience with children as well as the ability to respond to commands. They also provided ongoing support for our handlers and the CAP program.
Thorpe: Can you describe a typical witness who might be helped by the program?
Cojanu: Most of the witnesses assisted are children ranging in ages from 3-17 years. They have experienced neglect/abuse situations and most have been the victims of sexual assault. Because of their importance to the case, these children are extremely anxious about having to participate in the criminal justice system. By using the dog, we can effectively alleviate much of this anxiety and provide a new focus. This allows the child to participate with less fear. Additionally, we have also been asked to assist survivors in domestic violence situations in the courtroom.
Thorpe: Tell us a bit about your background.
Cojanu: After completing graduate school, I knew my career would take me into working with kids who need an advocate of some kind. I have worked with kids for over 30 years in both residential care and as a caseworker in specialized neglect/abuse units. My work as supervisor at the Oakland County Prosecutors Office Victim Services Section also allowed me to continue in this field by maintaining a caseload.  The opportunity to carry on this type of work after retirement has been extremely rewarding.
Thorpe: How many courts in Michigan are now participating?
Cojanu: We have dogs working at prosecutors offices in Bay, Ionia, Shiawassee, Eaton and St. Joseph County.  The dog I work with, "Amos," works primarily in Oakland County but has been called on to assist in neighboring counties.
Thorpe: What’s next for the program?
Cojanu: My goal is to have this program available in every county in Michigan. I understand that not every county in Michigan has the need for a full time canine advocate, however, every county should have access to this valuable resource. Some of our dogs have traveled to neighboring counties to assist other prosecutors who need this service. CAP will be doing a presentation in Traverse City in February at the PAAM Midwinter Conference. We are looking forward to showing our program to the elected prosecutors in our state.
 

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