Man's best friend helps crime victims prepare to take the stand

Man's best friend helps crime victims prepare to take the stand

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FARGO, N.D. (KVLY) -- It's no secret dogs can help solve crimes, that's why many police departments have K-9 officers. But now in Cass County, North Dakota, dogs are also helping crime victims prepare to testify in court.

The State's Attorney's office has a therapy dog named Hilo, and he joined the office about three months ago. Four-year old Hilo is a black lab, German short hair who comes to the Cass County State's Attorney's office two days a week.

"Hilo is a therapy dog and a facility dog," said Hilo's owner and Victim Witness Coordinator, Brenda Olson-Wray. "He is in the office because we deal with yucky stuff."

The rescue dog comforts victims, along with Olson-Wray's coworkers.

"I love having Hilo here," said Assistant State's Attorney, Leah Viste.

Olson-Wray admits it has taken a while to get her office on board with the idea of having a dog work with them, but eventually her boss allowed her to test it out.

"For those people that come unwillingly into the system, somebody who is the victim of a crime, this is a scary thing and they don't understand how the system works," said Cass County State's Attorney, Birch Burdick.

Burdick said although they were still able to do their job fine before, Hilo's intuition adds an extra layer of comfort to victims.

"We're not using Hilo in the courtroom at this point in time, but we are using him in the office," explained Burdick. "It brings to some victims, in appropriate situations, some comfort to talk."

Olson-Wray said in the three months Hilo has been working with her, she has had dozens of stories where Hilo has opened victims up to tell their stories, or changed their thinking about themselves.

"She was 24 and she thought life wasn't worth living. Hilo looked at her and looked at me, and looked back at her and went and sat on her lap," said Olson-Wray while holding back tears. "He was so like, 'Yes, you are worthy,' I couldn't do that for her. You can't pay for that kind of therapy."

Olson-Wray said Hilo has been an asset and he helps coworkers decompress when dealing with tough details in their day.

"Sexual assault, a rape, they are going to take all that data in as they are typing it in," she said. "You don't just wash that off, it sticks on you because there was another human harmed."

Having Hilo as part of the State's Attorneys office isn't costing the county anything, but they say it's aiding them in seeking justice.

"The goal in the criminal justice system is to uncover the truth," explained Burdick.

"The things he has already done for victims can make me weep," stated Olson-Wray.

Cass County may be the only State's Attorney's office in North Dakota to have a therapy dog. Numerous other states have dogs working in State's Attorney offices, some are even specially trained to be in courtrooms.

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