DA enlists furry friend to aid victims

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The newest member of the Nassau County district attorney’s office stands on four legs and is covered with fur.

A two-year-old female Labrador retriever named Mega will assist Kathleen Rice’s office as a “facility dog” on cases primarily involving sex crimes or child abuse, Rice announced during a news conference Thursday.

“Mega is a highly-trained facility dog who’s already started her work in helping vulnerable and scared victims and witnesses open up about horrific events in the daunting surroundings of a prosecutors office,” Rice said.

Rice said Mega was provided to the county free of charge by the non-profit Canine Companions for Independence, which will retain ownership of the dog, and is one of only two facility dogs used by a district attorney’s office in New York state.

Mega will be available to meet with alleged victims and witnesses and may be used by any bureau in the district attorney’s office, officials said. Her first day on the job was Nov. 10.

Facility dogs provided by Canine Companions learn more than 50 commands during a six-month intensive training program that officials said would help assist people with disabilities and assimilate to an office environment.

Handlers of Canine Companion dogs also undergo two-week training programs.

Rice said Mega is also being monitored for possible assistance in grand juries and trials.

Debra Dougherty, the northeast regional director for Canine Companions, said Nassau County is part of a growing trend of jurisdictions that have applied to use facility dogs.

“These placements are exemplary of the animal-human bond mostly because animals are non-judgmental, live in the moment and are always happy to have that companionship,” she said. “We look forward to hearing about the many successes Mega will have in helping a victim testify in court about a painful incident.”

Mega will be fed and receive medical care with funds yielded from forfeitures of criminal cases, Rice said. Assistant District Attorney Amanda Burke, of the office’s Special Victims Bureau, will take Mega home each night.

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