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Court-Appointed Buddy

Just a few months ago, Buddy, the Newfoundland-Labrador mix, was just another black dog at the local Maryland Humane Society that no one wanted to adopt. Today, however, he has a government ID, a corner office and a badge, identifying him as a member of the Maryland State Attorney's Office.

Buddy is being trained as the first therapy dog that will be used in the Maryland court system. Buddy will work with young victims and those that are witnesses to crimes. According to Joyce Schaum, Director of the Victim Assistance Unit, "Children don't want to talk about the bad stuff that happened, especially if it's somebody they loved or still love. Many times, the children are told to keep quiet, but they probably were never told not to talk to a dog."

"Therapy dogs can decrease stress levels after as little as five minutes," says Assistant Professor of Psychology at McDaniel College, Holly Chalk. She believes that the dog can help the child feel less anxious.

Buddy's success has been wonderful. He has helped many children feel safe when attending courtroom proceedings. He has attended sentencings, waited with the child before they testify as well as stood nearby as they took the stand. "Buddy provides a way to give strength to a vulnerable witness," says Chalk.

When people see Buddy, they smile and just melt and the court system has already seen the benefits of Buddy's special skills. Many children are delighted to see Buddy, quickly asking if they can pet him or take him for a walk. Many times the children do not want to leave.

Therapy dogs are rare in the court system but have begun to surface in Florida, New York and Washington state over the last few years. Buddy is the first for the state of Maryland. Prosecutors hope to eventually bring Buddy into the courtroom so that he can "help those who need support while sitting in the witness stand," says State Attorney Jerry F. Barnes.

Buddy sits in on about eight interviews per month, but comes into the office about three times a week. Because of his success in the court system, Buddy helped earn Barnes and Schaum the Governor's Victim Assistance Award.