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LAW DAY: Victim services intervention dog helps children deal with court

Some dogs are trained to sniff out trouble. This one finds the troubled.

Milan, a labrador who turns six in June, has been working as a victim services intervention dog with Manitoba Justice for almost three years.

His main role, handler Vivian Bott said Sunday during the Law Day Open House at the downtown law courts, is to work before, during and after with children required to testify in criminal court, which tends to mean something traumatic has happened to them.

“Sometimes it’s the parents that she goes to. Sometimes it’s the kids. I don’t tell her who to work with. I just let her go and she’ll figure out who needs her the most and she’ll go hang out with that person. She’ll work the room, but she’ll find the most stressed-out person in the room and will just situate herself there until she feels that person has been given that relief,” Bott told a small crowd, about half of which were children.

“And that’s something you can’t train for. That’s just her. She’s an extremely sensitive dog. You can’t train a dog to be empathetic any more than you can train a person to be empathetic. It’s either in their nature or it’s not.”

Milan, who has made 64 court appearances since starting in July 2016, is one of about 40-such dogs in the country, but the only one in Manitoba.

Training began at two months old at Pacific Assistance Dog Society in Burnaby, B.C., and lasted for a year and a half. If there are no health or behavioural issues, advanced training follows based on the animal’s skill set.

Milan is a low-energy dog with a calm temperament which classifies her as “bombproof” and well-suited to provide stress relief.

Those are the opposite qualities of drug detection dogs, which were also on display at the open house, put on nationwide as a celebration of the signing of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

There were also student-led mock trials and debates, information sessions and display booths, tours and a special sitting of Citizenship Court.

Bott credits Milan with revitalizing her career, now in its 16th year. Part of her job is to manage Milan’s emotional well-being after a tough day at work, and to minimize public interaction – “nothing personal” – that could work to erode skills required as a working dog.

She expects that they’ll retire together in four years time, at which point she’ll be able to adopt the dog from PADS.

“We’re very connected. I can’t even describe the connection I have with this dog. We’re together all the time.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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