For many people the legal system is an intimidating experience, but the Stanislaus County District Attorney's office has a staff member willing to reach out a steadying and comforting hand. Or rather a paw.
Honor is a Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever mix that serves as a facility dog with the district attorney's office to help anyone who might need a comforting presence.
The district attorney's office uses Honor in a myriad of ways to help witnesses and victims alike as they progress through the legal system. She might sit at the feet of a witness as they testify on the stand, or lay next to a victim as they answer questions from investigators.
"Honor is here for whomever might need her," said Deputy District Attorney Merrill Hoult, who is Honor's main handler. "She is a tool to help us seek justice and one of our best victim advocates. I know she has really made a difference for some people."
Honor came to the district attorney's office in 2015 from the Canine Companions for Independence organization. The organization is a non-profit that was founded in 1975 to breed, raise and train service dogs. The organization maintains ownership of the dog and allows a handler to adopt once the dog reaches retirement. Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital provides care and food to Honor free of charge.
The organization Courthouse Dogs Foundation has spearheaded the use of canine companions for those feeling vulnerable during the legal process. The dogs are specifically chosen for their calm temperament and are trained to work in a high-stress environment, so that they don't create any interruptions or potential legal issues.
"When she's in the courtroom, like sitting at the feet of a witness, most people won't even know she is there," Hoult said.
When she is wearing her service vest, Honor is all about the job at hand, but when the vest comes off, she's ready to enjoy life.
"She's very loving and very mellow," Hoult said. "She's also pretty playful and loves to play fetch, tug-of-war and hide-and-seek. She likes having her belly rubbed and oddly enough, having her teeth brushed."
Honor also assists the department with outreach by visiting schools and attending any of the department's public events, like the homicide victims' memorial. She also is a member of the mass victim crime response team.
"She's a very busy dog," Hoult said.
Honor also provides a bit of welcome relief to the staff working in the district attorney's office.
"She has beds and toys all over," Hoult said. "People will come by and say, 'I need some Honor time.'”