Special canine offering special care to area crime victims

Going to the Lehigh County Courthouse should be a much more pleasant experience for victims of crime.

District Attorney Jim Martin announced the addition of courthouse companion dog Ramona to his office.

They say courthouse companion dogs help provide emotional comfort and support when dealing with the stressors of the judicial system.

Ramona arrived Wednesday and will be working with victims and witnesses -- of all ages in many different types of cases -- who wish to interact with her.

According to the office, research supports that for some people, contact with an animal can significantly reduce stress and anxiety - plus, they can also help built trust and rapport with child victims who might be anxious, scared or withdrawn.

Ramona comes from Canine Partners for Life of Cochranville, Pa., which trains service dogs, home companion dogs, residential companion dogs and courthouse companion dogs -- and provides them to those individuals and agencies that request them.

Each dog is taken through a two-year comprehensive and customized training program to meet the specific needs of its placement.

Ramona is a 2-year-old female black Labrador Retriever and came from the Assistance Dogs International breeding coalition. She'd been donated by another assistance dog school at about 12 weeks of age and was raised by inmates of the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup.

"When Ramona began her second year of training it became clear to CPL staff that she was special with her sweet and spunky demeanor," the DA's office reports. "She loves everyone, is very outgoing, and is a professional cuddler. She tilts her head to the side when you talk to her and it seems she is listening very closely to what you say."

Her small size made it difficult for her to fulfill the role of a service dog as she struggled to reach tall counters and elevator buttons, retrieve items, and open doors.