Petra the dog came quietly from underneath Sherry Magness' desk in the Smith County District Attorney's Office on Tuesday afternoon when her name was called.
“Petra makes the children more comfortable so they can tell their stories,” Ms. Magness said.
The dog calmly follows Ms. Magness' commands as she tells her to “visit” and to “sit.” When Ms. Magness says “lap,” Petra lays across her lap, as if to comfort her.
Canine Companions donated the cost of Petra and her training, about $50,000, the same as the cost to train Sophie, the second dog that worked for the District Attorney's Office, and her predecessor, Macy. Ms. Magness' traveling expenses were covered by drug forfeiture money. No Smith County taxpayer funds were used for the training or for the travel, Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said in January.
Macy died from bone cancer in December, and Sophie joined the office in January, but did not work for long. “Sophie's personality was not right for the office — she didn't want to be a working dog,” Ms. Magness said. The dog left in February and went back to the individual who raised her as a puppy.
She also said Sophie is a good dog, and that the person who raised her wanted her back. The individuals who raise the dogs as puppies have them from eight weeks to 18 months, Ms. Magness said.
Smith County Assistant District Attorney April Sikes said Petra's personality is “an absolutely perfect match for the compassion and comfort that we seek to bring for the victims of crime.”
Petra is already hard at work, and proving to be a valuable addition to the office, Ms. Sikes said.
Ms. Magness and Petra graduated together after completing an intense, residential team training course at Canine Companions' Southwest Regional Facility in Oceanside, Calif., according to information received from the organization.
During team training, students are strategically matched with assistance dogs and learn how to work with them safely and effectively. The dogs are trained for two years prior in up to 50 commands before they are ready to work as someone's helper 24 hours per day or as a facility dog, according to the organization.
Canine Companions for Independence provides highly-trained assistance dogs to children and to adults with disabilities. For more information, go to www.cci.org.