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Posted: Thursday, 17 April 2014 4:30PM

Berrien County Prosecutor On Board With Service Dogs For Young, Vulnerable Witnesses



The Berrien County Prosecutor's Office is set to join several other prosecutor's offices in Michigan in a program that offers highly-trained service dogs to children and vulnerable adults being called to testify in court. Prosecutor Mike Sepic told the Berrien County Commission on Thursday that he was initially skeptical, but has come around when he considers the stress of being on the witness stand.

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The dogs in Michigan are provided by the Canine Advocacy Program and are currently in at prosecutor's offices in at least six counties, including St. Joseph County in southwest Michigan. Director Dan Cojanu says by having the dog for the day, children are more at ease and become much more likely to be able to answer questions on the stand. He says prosecutors and judges are backing the program, as have defense lawyers.

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Dogs have been allowed in the courtroom for jury trials in Ottawa and Bay counties so far. Costs are minimal, and the dog's purchase is already covered. The handler/owner is responsible for grooming, food, vet care and other general expenses. Sepic says Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Taylor will take ownership in Berrien County. Berrien County would be responsible for liability insurance and purchasing any supplies like toys and bedding for the dog while it's on the job. The county commission is likely to vote on a resolution for the program in the coming weeks.

   

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