The Westchester County District Attorney’s Office has recruited a new dog to provide victims and witnesses comfort as they trek through the criminal justice process.
Lewis, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever, will be the office’s first facility dog and help make what is often a traumatic and stressful experience a bit easier for those who find themselves in the criminal justice system. Lewis is joined by trained handler Assistant District Attorney Brian Bendish of the Superior Court Trial Division.
District Attorney Anthony Scarpino said medical professionals have found that having a dog offering comfort, whether in meetings or in court, can help relieve stress, adding his delight to introduce an extra level of care to those who need it most.
“For witnesses and victims, sitting through interviews and preparing for trial is a very stressful time, especially for child witnesses, victims of domestic and elder abuse, and victims of sexual assault,” Scarpino said. “Retelling and reliving those moments can be extremely difficult.”
Lewis was raised and trained by Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit service dog organization, and has been given to the district attorney’s office for free. It’s estimated that his two years of training and that of his handler costs roughly $50,000, Scarpino said, noting that the cost of his ongoing care and feeding is paid for through private funds within the office.
Bendish spent three weeks of specialized training to bond with Lewis and learn the 40 advanced commands he responds to. The training consisted of intensive lectures, hands-on training, and multiple examinations in order to acquire public certification. While training is ongoing, Scarpino said it requires strict consistency and structure to ensure Lewis adheres to his trained behaviors.
Bendish will attend all appointments with Lewis, issue his commands, and oversee the dog’s daily needs, Scarpino said.
“Lewis is an exceptional animal. He is amazingly calm and sweet. He is trained not to approach anyone unless he is told to,” Bendish said. “I really look forward to seeing how his easy demeanor will de-stress situations for our victims and witnesses. I think he is just a great addition to our Office.”