Place Category: Specialized Court Projects
- PUEBLO OF POJOAQUE SERVICE TRAINED COURTHOUSE FACILITY DOG
- PROGRAM DESCRIPTION
- PLANNING & IMPLEMENTATION
- PROGRAM OUTCOMES
The Pueblo of Pojoaque Tribal Court is the first Tribal Court in the nation to use a court house facility dog as part of the court team. Kiki, a service-trained certified courthouse facility dog, was bred, socialized, and trained to work in the court by Assistance Dogs of the West (ADW) and is handled by Chief Judge Kim McGinnis and Probation Officer Dawn DeSmet. Kiki’s primary job is to mitigate trauma for people who come to court, particularly people struggling with substance use disorders. She mingles with participants at wellness court hearings and probation meetings. Almost everyone who comes to court has some kind of trauma history: Kiki’s non-judgmental presence and touch has profound effects. People with trauma history are more likely to stay grounded in the present. Kiki motivates some people to keep coming back for services: she does not care if they test positive or are otherwise out of compliance with probation. When children meet with Judge McGinnis or are in court, Kiki is there for them to talk to, helping the children be more open and reducing their trauma. Kiki plays a key role in the daily life of court personnel by reducing the effects of secondary trauma and the ongoing stress the staff experience. Employees from other departments and community members often come to the courthouse for “Kiki time”. Kiki also represents the court in the community and is learning to respond to Tewa cues, the language of Pojoaque Pueblo.
Program Running Length:
Kiki joined the team in April 2018
Pojoaque is located in Northern Central New Mexico, about 20 miles north of Santa Fe. Pojoaque is bordered by the Pueblos of Nambé, San Ildefonso, and Tesuque, with Santa Clara Pueblo and Ohkay Owingeh located just north, in Rio Arriba County.
Pojoaque is a small rural high desert community with traditional boundaries covering about 13,000 acres.
The current tribal enrollment is 525 members with about 3500 people residing in the Pueblo of Pojoaque Census Tract.
People who come to court—including litigants, children, victims, defendants, witnesses, wellness court participants—often have trauma histories that trigger trauma responses at court or during hearings. Trauma responses may include behaviors like aggression, anger, flight, failure to appear, lack of cooperation, or other surprising behaviors. Court staff also may struggle with secondary trauma due to their work. Courthouse facility dogs mitigate trauma responses.Kiki interacts with anyone who comes to the courthouse. She mingles with wellness court participants during hearings and hangs out (in the presence of a handler) with children, parents, victims, witnesses, courtroom staff, other employees, and community members.In 2017, the Pueblo of Pojoaque, like many communities, was struggling with the devasting effects of substance use disorders, including deaths from overdoses and chronic alcohol use. Judge McGinnis, who has PhD in neuropharmacology from her previous career as a neuroscientist, began talking with community members about what happens to the brains of people struggling with substance use disorders and trauma. Pueblo leadership committed to working towards becoming a trauma-informed community that understands that people with trauma histories may react in unexpected ways. In early 2018, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges came to Pojoaque to do a trauma assessment of the courthouse. Pojoaque is working to implement the recommendations to help mitigate trauma at the courthouse.
Judge McGinnis became familiar with the benefits of trained facility dogs to reduce trauma responses through the Taos County Children’s Advocacy Center, where several ADW-trained dogs work. Judge McGinnis started working with ADW, a nationally accredited service-dog training organization, to assess the courthouse, proposed use of the dog, the proposed home placement, and the proposed handlers to see if Pojoaque Tribal Court would be a good fit for a facility dog.
Prior to Kiki’s arrival, Judge McGinnis and the Probation Officer went through ADW’s client placement process to become certified facility dog handlers. Over several months, they worked with ADW trainers and met about 20 potential facility dogs, until Kiki, a
yellow Labrador, decided she wanted to work at Pojoaque. The handlers learned how to navigate the world with Kiki, becoming fluent in the many cues she knows, and acquiring the physical skills needed to work together as partners. The handlers and Kiki passed the rigorous public access test, which measured their skills and Kiki’s readiness to work with them in public.The primary goal of adding Kiki to the Court Team was to mitigate potential trauma responses for people who come to court. Kiki also reduces secondary trauma for staff. We expect her presence will improve outcomes for people who are court-involved and reduce staff turnover.
Kiki spends most of her work day with the tribal court probation officer, meeting with healing to wellness court participants and others on probation, including teens. Kiki attends court hearings with the probation officer and goes to support groups that are held as a part of the Path to Wellness program. Kiki sits with children when they meet Judge McGinnis and when they are in court. Kiki also spends time with court personnel and other justice partners. When she is done with work, she goes home with Judge McGinnis for play time and relaxation.Kiki works mainly in Pojoaque’s Path to Wellness Court with her handlers. Judge McGinnis is the program supervisor. ADW is available to help with any training needs, problem solving or other issues that may arise.Eligibility Criteria
The Pueblo of Pojoaque Path to Wellness (PTW) accepts moderate to high risk individuals with substance use disorders. Referrals may come from law enforcement, social services, the court, probation, tribal leadership, or self-referral.
Anyone who comes into the court can, if they like, pet and spend time with Kiki if one of her handlers is available.
Any court can be eligible for a courthouse facility dog. The court must have someone who is capable of being a full-time handler, go through the application and interview process and once placed with a facility dog, must attend the 2-week intensive training course. Additionally, the courthouse must be able to meet the dog’s needs, such as having an outdoor area where the dog can be toileted, a place of rest during the work day, plenty of exercise, and a good diet. For more information on how to apply for a courthouse dog please visit the ADW Website.
Supervision and Compliance
Path to Wellness Court Participants are required to come to weekly hearings (becoming less frequent later in the process) to speak with the judge and other PTW team members. Participants meet at least weekly with probation. They are tested for the use of illegal drugs or alcohol randomly and frequently. They must follow a substance abuse treatment plan and case management plan.
Termination from PTW happens only when the person repeatedly absconds or is unwilling to participate.
Interactions with Kiki are not used as an incentive or sanction. Anyone can interact with her, no matter how non-compliant they may be, so long as they are safe with her.Generally, the entire process of getting a Courthouse Facility Dog costs the program approximately $10,000 (costs to ADW to raise and train a service dog is greater than $30,000). This includes the application process, the interview process (including several visits and the beginning of handling skills), match with the dog, home visit, client placement, and ongoing support throughout the life of the team. There are several funding avenues available in the form of grants and federal funding for Tribal Courts. ADW provided a scholarship for Kiki’s placement from a Foundation that restricts funds for scholarship only. Ongoing costs include Kiki’s food and vet/healthcare costs, a total of about $100 per month, which Judge McGinnis donates but most other programs have these expenses as a budget item.The training, breeding, and certification of Kiki and the initiation of Kiki into the court room was conducted by ADW. ADW is one of the only agencies that trains service dogs specifically for the courthouse and has placed more than 40 dogs throughout the United States working in the investigation and prosecution of crimes against vulnerable victims. ADW provides ongoing TTA at the Pojoaque Courthouse, at the ADW facility, by telephone, and email. The handlers must be re-certified this year and then periodically to ensure best practices.ADW worked closely with Pojoaque. ADW trained both Kiki and the handlers and continue to be assets to the Pueblo of Pojoaque.Tribal leadership was supportive from the beginning of this process. Court staff and the community are respectful of Kiki’s work and understanding that she is working during the day. ADW offers ongoing advice and encouragement to make sure we are using Kiki to her potential.One the major challenges faced when Kiki joined the team was her attachment to Judge McGinnis. Initially, she was bonded to the Judge and wanted to be with her at all times. This led to her trying to jump up on the bench and cause a general commotion. However, as she settled in, Kiki has become completely comfortable with those around her, knows her job and is available for anyone who needs her. Additionally, Judge McGinnis and others are aware that some people do not like dogs and may have trauma around dogs. To avoid provoking a trauma-response, they make sure to let people know that Kiki is there and if someone would rather not be around her, she can go elsewhere.Making sure all visitors and staff know not to give Kiki treats without specific guidance from one of her handlers. We have learned to always introduce her calmly to new people because not everyone is excited about her.We generally have 20 participants in the Path to Wellness Court and an additional 30 people on probation who will meet with the probation officer and Kiki most weeks. We have 2-3 Children’s Court hearings per week where she will be used to hang out with any minors. Kiki also stays with the probation officer when she runs the Moral Reconation Therapy group each week, with about 10 participants.Having Kiki has been an extremely positive experience. Judge McGinnis has noticed an improvement of many of people coming through the court. She can hear people on probation shouting out happily to greet Kiki when they come for their urine screens. Having Kiki at the courthouse has helped keep participants present and grounded during hearings, reducing trauma responses. Kiki’s presence in the wellness court support groups has brought positivity into the sessions and is a reason that people keep coming back to the groups. Lastly and importantly, Kiki has made an enormous impact on the staff morale. Many of the staff, including the Chief of Police and HR Director, come over to the wellness court so that they can have “Kiki time”.The community loves Kiki and some community members come to the courthouse to visit with her. Judge McGinnis often takes Kiki to community events like the child abuse and domestic violence walks and the recent recovery event. Kiki is learning Tewa cues to delight the Tewa speaking children.One 10-year-old boy in a custody case would not talk to the judge at all even with Kiki in the room. The judge moved with Kiki to a couch where the boy could hug her. The judge asked the boy to tell Kiki anything he wanted to say. The boy opened up and the judge was able to get useful information about how the boy was doing.
In the wellness court, several participants have special bonds with Kiki. One young woman is struggling with opioid use disorder and comes to the courthouse several times a week just to see Kiki. As a result, she sees the probation officer and other staff more often and stays more engaged with wellness court than she would if we didn’t have Kiki for her to visit.
- Assistance Dog of the West Website: http://assistancedogsofthewest.org/
- 3 things to know about having a service dog: http://assistancedogsofthewest.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/3ThingsAssistanceDog-eBook-Final-7.18.17.pdf
- ADW Special on PBS News: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/meet-the-courtroom-dogs-who-help-child-crime-victims-tell-their-stories
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