Paws for thought: K-9 advocate provides support for children testifying in court

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

One of the newer members of the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office doesn’t require much to get through his workday—a pat on the head, a scratch behind the ears, and a bowl of kibbles will suffice.

“Abe”—Jackson’s first canine advocate—joined the team in January 2017, with the goal of helping victims and witnesses—especially children—to testify in court. The 2-1/2-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, proudly sporting a red K-9 Advocate bandanna, is tasked with meeting and accompanying children to court, among other duties. Last year, Jackson’s Child Advocacy Center interviewed more than 200 children for criminal cases, many of which involved sexual abuse. 

A Michigan native, Abe traveled to Pennsylvania to be trained with Leader Dogs for the Blind, before joining the Jackson office.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka had wanted a K-9 advocate from his first year in office, and a trainer and dog visited the office in 2013, to demonstrate at a staff meeting the effectiveness of having a canine advocate in the courthouse. The plan was finally “unleashed” in 2016. Several prosecutors’ offices around the country have a canine on their team.

When not on the job, Abe lives with Jarzynka and his wife Marguerite, and loves to chase tennis balls for exercise.

“Abe loves people,” Jarzynka says. “He’s been a welcome addition to our office and has already helped many children.  Having to testify in court creates a lot of anxiety, and Abe has been very helpful in reducing the stress level of kids about coming to court.

“Abe has also helped boost the spirits of our staff and acts as a stress reliever He’s been an ambassador for our office to the whole courthouse.”

Dr. Susan Sayles at the Brooklyn Road Veterinary Clinic donates veterinary services for Abe. She and has taken care of Abe since he arrived.  

“I knew the prosecuting attorney as I cared for his personal pet and he approached me with the concept of the canine advocate and I thought it was wonderful,” Sayles says. “I immediately volunteered to provide my services to help with caring for Abe and providing his preventive care, medications and treatment at no charge to the city. It’s my way of helping out and showing the amazing bond between humans and animals and how helpful they can be in times of stress.  

“I see it every day in my office how important these animals are to their owners and the children in their families and so it is a natural extension of their power to calm and comfort people during times of stress in the courtroom setting. Abe went through special training to teach him to remain calm and to have the control to sit or lay for periods of time without distress. He’s a very happy dog that truly enjoys being around people!”

Daria Grinenko, owner of Pet Supplies Plus in Jackson, helps with services and supplies. 

“The Jarzynka family has supported our local business for years and when they approached us to donate the initial supply list for Abe, we were more than happy to help,’ Grinenko says. “We, too, witness how pets help people every day and firmly believe in their power to ease stress and provide comfort. These kids have already had to endure so much emotional trauma and knowing Abe is by their side in court makes me thankful to the prosecutor’s office for their efforts.

“Abe is a great dog and we get to see him when he visits our store. To me, every court system and agency that serve clients with trauma, should offer a K9 Advocate.”

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