LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WRBL) – A four-legged miracle worker inside the Lee County District Attorney’s Office recently made her trial debut while lying at the feet of a human trafficking survivor as the young teen bravely testified in court. Josette is a four-and-a-half-year-old yellow lab helping crime victims navigate the legal justice system and come out survivors.
Josette, called Jo for short, knows 50 plus commands and tricks. She can speak, shake your hand, and lay down. In addition, Josette delights children by playing a game with them, requiring her to pick out sticks. Jo will even jump through a hula hoop to help break the ice when a victim comes to the Justice Center. However, co-workers say Josette’s most extraordinary talent comes naturally to her, the ability to love unconditionally, without judgment. Dogs do this so well, as so many of us understand.
“Josette’s purpose, her service to the office, is to help comfort victims. When we bring Jo into a room, she changes everything. She can do tricks and play games with the kids, which they love. She is calm and even-tempered. She can accomplish and get a victim to open up in five minutes compared to what a prosecutor could do in five months,” said Lee County District Attorney Pro-Tem Jessica Ventiere.
Josette is a certified court facility dog with HERO, Alabama’s Courthouse Facility Dog Program. She was trained by Canine Companions, the oldest service dog training non-profit in the country. Jo and her handler, prosecutor Madison Grantham, joined the Lee County DA’s office in January. Grantham also completed a rigorous training course and testing to become Jo’s certified handler.
Jo typically snuggles and plays with crime victims, child or otherwise, during pre-trial and post-trial meetings with prosecutors. Jo gives victims a bright spot during a dark time in their life. This month, Jo made her trial debut. The jury never saw her as she lain at the feet of a young human trafficking survivor while she bravely testified from the witness stand. At one point, Jo fell asleep on the job and began having a doggy nighmare. Ventiere says the survivor reached down and comforted Jo. They got through it together.
The abuser was convicted. Jo was with the teen every step of the way.
“It’s rewarding, on so many levels. For somebody who is hurting, Jo is there to help them move forward as they transition from victim to survivor. It’s a marathon, and they go up there, tell the truth, and the jury does what it’s going to do. But no matter what, they have finished, and Jo is there with them all the way,” said Grantham.
Jo is one of 12 Hero dogs who work with Alabama court systems and child advocacy centers. Jo mainly works at the Lee County DA’s office – but Grantham takes her to other circuits to meet with victims. Wherever she’s needed, Jo is happy to grab her leash and go.
For more information on Canine Companions, visit their website: canine.org