Thurston County Courthouse Canine Provides Comfort


For many crime victims, talking to attorneys can be stressful. In order to help prosecutors, they have to talk through painful, sometimes traumatic experiences.

That’s where Marshal, a 2-year-old black lab, and the newest staff member at the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office, comes in.

His job is to simply be there for victims, placing his head in their laps, and allowing them to pet his velvety ears. He’s there to provide comfort, and to make the experience a little more bearable.

Marshal will officially start work in early January, with handler Kim Carroll, senior victim advocate for the Prosecutor’s Office.

“He’ll mainly be working to comfort victims of domestic violence and other traumatic crimes,” Carroll said. “He’ll be available for interviews with both the prosecution and defense.”

Marshal’s main command is “visit.” When Carroll gives him the order, he calmly walks over to a seated victim and places his head in their lap.

“It just feels good,” Carroll said. “There’s something very comforting about it.”

While the command is simple, Marshal’s ability to provide comfort is the result of both his demeanor and years of training. He was born in Australia, then taken to Hawaii as a puppy, where he started training with Assistance Dogs of Hawaii.

The Prosecutor’s Office applied for a dog in November, and was approved only a short time later. Assistance Dogs of Hawaii is providing Marshal, who is worth about $40,000, free of cost.

Carroll and Wendy Ireland — Marshal’s caretaker — flew to Hawaii a short time later to start their own training.

Carroll and Ireland refer to themselves as Marshal’s two moms. While Marshal works with Carroll, he lives with Ireland, a legal support coordinator for the Prosecutor’s Office.

Marshal’s training was largely complete when he began working with Carroll and Ireland.

“We’re the ones who have a lot to learn,” Ireland said.

“If he doesn’t do something quite right, it’s usually our fault,” Carroll added.

The two women said they are still “learning Marshal’s language,” adjusting the tone they use with him, and learning to think about environmental factors. An Assistance Dogs of Hawaii trainer has been on hand to help, and will visit every few months to check in.

For example, Carroll said she’s had to make some changes to her office since Marshal came to work with her. In order to execute the command “snuggle” — in which Marshal puts his paws and head into a victim’s lap — he needs to be able to jump on and off the couch in her office. But with the office’s original layout, a coffee table was too close to the couch for Marshal to jump comfortably.

Marshal has already been good for morale in the Prosecutor’s Office, Ireland said. When he’s not with Carroll, he sleeps on a large dog bed under Ireland’s desk. She said people often come by just to look at him.

Carroll and Ireland, who have worked for the Prosecutor’s Office for 18 and 24 years respectively, said that although Marshal is a big commitment, he’s made their jobs more enjoyable.

“We already love our jobs,” Carroll said. “Marshal is just a bonus.”