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Jefferson County uses court service dog to help children in court

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HILLSBORO, MO (KTVI) - You have probably heard of service dogs and therapy dogs, but how about a courthouse dog?

In the Fox Files Dan Gray reports on a dog who is meeting the emotional needs of children who have to appear in court.

Natalie, a two-year-old black lab mix, has a work schedule posted at the Jefferson County courthouse in Hillsboro. Natalie and her handler, Court Clerk Brenda Pigg, answer the call from prosecutors, lawyers and judges.  "We were trying a child sex abuse case. It was a jury trial and the child was about 12 or 13-years-old and Natalie was sitting there on the witness stand with her and when she felt a little anxiety she would reach down and pet the dog and she was able to continue her testimony and it was very helpful," said senior Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Gary Kramer.

Court Reporter Charmaine Spradling and family law attorney Alice Kramer came up with the idea to have a dog provide comfort to children while they're going through court proceedings.  Kramer said, "I got a puppy in 2004 and decided to bring that dog to my office and the clients loved seeing the dog it relaxed them it made everything better."  Spradling said Natalie has done an amazing job bringing a calming influence to children at court proceedings.  "I see children put in positions in court rooms everyday that aren't they don't ask for, they are out there for whatever reason and its very scary, intimidating."

Natalie came to work on May first last year at the Jefferson County courthouse after undergoing six months of rigorous training and screening by Missouri prison inmates in the state department of corrections Puppies for Parole Program.

The vest Natalie wears shows she is a helper dog certified by COMTREA, a mental health agency in Jefferson County and she has a diploma for advanced training for passing an AKC good citizen test.  Nearly every employee at the Jefferson County courthouse watches over Natalie, who is becoming a model for other courts.  Judge Kramer said,”actually I did tell that same story to a group of judges at a judicial conference last fall and got a very positive response from many of them who came to me afterwards to find out how our program worked."

When it comes to promoting justice with compassion, Natalie works like a dog.  Court Reporter Charmaine Spradling said "they melt your heart. There's nothing better than a dog's love it’s unconditional."