Several years ago, East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Louise Hines brought her three-legged dog Goose to work to see if he could help provide comfort and support to a young sex crime victim.
"It actually worked, but he's too much of a wiggle worm," she said.
Hines envisioned having a dog that could accompany child victims and witnesses as they go through the criminal justice process, including during court appearances.
"I wanted a dog that will stay still for a protracted period of time," she said.
Three years later, Hines and the District Attorney's Office have their canine.
His name is Diesel, a 2-year-old Labrador/golden retriever mix who's been trained since he was 8 weeks old as an assistance dog by the nonprofit group Canine Companions for Independence.
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The organization trains assistance dogs for people with disabilities, hearing impairments and veterans with emotional support needs, as well as for facilities like district attorneys' offices and courts.
A group called Courthouse Dogs Foundation says there are 154 such dogs working in 35 states, including five in Louisiana. The Terrebonne Parish District Attorney's Office in Houma and the 35th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Colfax have a facility dog, as does Orleans Parish Juvenile Court and Hammond Child Advocacy Services.
Hines, a sex crimes prosecutor, said Diesel is technically a court "facility dog" but she lovingly refers to him as a WAG, or witness assistance guide. He definitely wags his tail for cold baby carrots and crushed ice, she noted.
"He works for his kibble," Hines said with a smile as Diesel lounged at her feet. "He's not technically on the payroll." But he is insured.
Diesel has not yet appeared in his official capacity in a 19th Judicial District courtroom, but he has made two appearances in East Baton Rouge Parish Juvenile Court Judge Adam Haney's courtroom in a sex crime case involving a juvenile defendant and a child victim.
During the young victim's testimony, Diesel rested under the witness stand so he wouldn't be a distraction. For obvious reasons, Hines said, he isn't allowed to have squeaky toys in the courtroom.
"He was not a distraction, and we wouldn't have noticed him until it was dinnertime and his stomach started growling," said Haney, a former East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutor.
The judge added that Diesel and dogs like him "can be a real asset to the court."
"His presence was calming for the child witness. The child was able to clearly answer the prosecutor's and defense attorney's questions," Haney said. "I am able to do my job better when the witnesses are comfortable speaking in court. Diesel can help with that."
Hines said Diesel "kind of absorbs what the children are feeling."
Diesel lives with Hines, who is his primary handler. Amy Files, a legal secretary in the District Attorney's Office's sex crimes division, is his secondary handler. Files said she has had Diesel over to her house for slumber parties.
Diesel was "sworn in" by Hines' and Files' boss, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III.
Moore said Diesel also works with the victim assistance counselors in his office.
"We're seeing more and more young victims" of sexual abuse, he said. "Anything we can do to relieve the stress on the victims, it's better for everyone. It makes it easier for them to communicate and cooperate."
Diesel is on loan to Moore's office free of charge from Canine Companions for Independence, which trains four types of assistance dogs: service dogs, skilled companions, hearing dogs and facility dogs.
The group also provided the dogs that are used in Hammond, Houma and Colfax. The National Education for Assistance Dog Services provided the service dog used in New Orleans.