Coming forward to report a sexual assault can be painful and emotionally exhausting. For children and people with developmental disabilities, retelling their stories can be especially confusing.
That’s why the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago hired its first comfort dog, a black Labrador retriever named Hatty.
“We’re excited to welcome Hatty to our team where she will provide comfort and peace to victims during one of the most difficult times in their lives,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
Two-year-old Hatty was sworn in on Tuesday, standing on her hind legs and placing one black paw across a law book as an oath was read.
Hatty’s job will be to assist children and developmentally disabled victims of sexual trauma, an official press release said. Hatty will be there for the victims while they testify in court, as well as during interviews with prosecutors and officials.
“Navigating the criminal justice system can be confusing and scary, especially for young people and other victims of sexual assault,” Foxx said.
“Victims are the center of our work, and I know personally that retelling a painful story of abuse can cause trauma all over again.”
Foxx, the first African-American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office — the country’s second-largest prosecutor’s office — struggled with her own story of sexual abuse when she was a child, CNN affiliate WLS reported.
“I can tell you, for years that I carried that trauma with me,” Foxx said.
“So, imagine coming to an institution where you don’t know the people and it’s not just a welcoming place,” she said. “[I want] to bring that experience I’ve had to try to figure out how we can lessen that anxiety for others.”
Hatty was trained by prison inmates in southwestern Illinois, according to WLS.
The Labrador retriever will work a 9-to-5 human schedule and handle 150 to 200 cases every year. Prosecutors estimate Hatty will appear in court with victims twice a month.
Two trained office employees will provide the dog’s housing and care.
In 2016, Illinois passed legislation which permits prosecutors to petition the court to allow a service dog to accompany children or developmentally disabled sexual assault victims while they testify in court.
Hatty was brought to Cook County in partnership with Duo Dogs, a nonprofit organization that provides highly skilled service dogs. According to a press release, the state’s attorney’s office held a fundraiser to gather funds for food, equipment and comfort materials.