The Anderson County Solicitors Office has a new, unusual tool in the court room; man’s best friend.
Emotions can run high for both victims and the accused in many criminal cases. That’s where Roma the court therapy dog comes in.
“It doesn’t look like it but this is her working, I promise,” Chelsey Moore, the Assistant Solicitor and Roma’s handler said as the 2-year-old yellow Labrador lounged on the bench.”It is wonderful. She does great work in our office, with our victims and our defendants. We really enjoy having her.”
Roma works for the 10th Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Anderson County. With her tail wagging, the pup is by Moore’s side regularly for several criminal cases. She’s trained to help soothe the nerves of both victims and defendants just by laying there.
“She helps with victims of all kinds but particularly with violent crimes, she is very helpful,” Moore added.
One of Roma’s first cases, according to Moore, was a violent one and hard on the victims.
“It was a horribly difficult case for them anyway, but with Roma it did make it a little easier for them and they told us she did, so it’s great to hear,” she recalled.
She’s also already helped a woman facing charges of her own, to help her enter a guilty plea.
“She was having a hard time before her plea so, I took Roma over and let her pet Roma and love on her a little bit,” Moore explained. “She was able to calm down enough to proceed with her plea.”
After two months, Roma’s calming effect on the whole court room is getting noticed. Moore says she is especially helpful with children, and criminal sexual misconduct cases.
By petting Roma or even just having them by their side, victims are able to face their abusers.
“When you are nervous, we release a chemical that keeps us from speaking. It actually prevents you from talking and the chemicals the dogs release counteract those. So they actually help you to speak and tell your story,” her handler explained. “Roma doesn’t care, victim or defendant, she doesn’t care and that is the great thing about her.”
Roma is one of nearly 100 similar dogs being utilized nationwide in other courtrooms and child advocacy centers. Though, she’s the only one of her kind in South Carolina.
Moore hope’s their success encourages other courtrooms to take on a four-legged companion. She says she’s already had calls from people interested.
The pup spent most of her life training before being donated to the Solicitors office by the canine companions for independence. It took several interviews and a lengthy process to get Roma to Anderson from California.
After 8 to 10 years of service, Roma will be able to retire with her handler. “She is like my child. My parents call her their grand-dog, so she is very much a part of the family,” Moore said.
No taxpayer money will be used for Roma. All funding surrounding the dog, including her training comes from forfeiture money.