The halls of justice in Johnston County are about to get a little softer. Or is it cuddlier? Or perhaps snugglier?
Last month, the Johnston County District Attorney’s office met its new service dog, Teghan, a goldendoodle who will soon offer victims and witnesses calm and comfort as an emotional support dog. The county’s district attorney, Susan Doyle, said children in particular may rely on the dog as they recount the details of abuse or other crimes.
“We envision Teghan will be used mostly to help victims of trauma, children or adults, when meeting with my office to go through the details of abuse,” Doyle said. “If they’re having any difficulty describing what happened to them, the dog can put them at ease. It can be a very stressful situation recounting abuse.”
Doyle said Assistant District Attorney Jordan Ford first brought up the idea of the dog after hearing about courthouse service dogs primarily on the West Coast. Teghan will be one of the first emotional service dogs used in a North Carolina courthouse, the Johnston office said. Doyle said the dog might also spend time in the lobbies of the courthouse, offering a head to pet for those coming through the metal detectors.
“It’s a way to relax everyone,” Doyle said. “The courthouse atmosphere can be very stressful.”
Teghan is being trained for her new job in the courthouse, but stopped by the DA’s office Friday to meet the staff. Doyle expects the training to last three or four months, but said Teghan would be coming back to Johnston County periodically.
There are organizations that donate trained service dogs to courthouses, Ford said, but waiting lists for those can take up to two years. Instead, the Johnston business community covered the costs. The pup was purchased from Knight GoldenDoodles in Clayton. Money for Teghan’s training and care has been taken care of by local businesses, including vet care and grooming.
“The support has really been heartwarming,” Doyle said. “Local businesses have been more than happy to contribute finances. ... Things like that really made us feel we’re doing the right thing.”
Ford said the office looked for a gooldendoodle because the breed is hypoallergenic and has minimal shedding.
“Who doesn’t love a dog?” Ford said.
Teghan is named after the victim of one of the most horrific crimes ever committed in Johnston County. In 2010, 4-year-old Teghan Skiba was tortured for days and eventually killed by Jonathan Richardson, the ex-boyfriend of her mother. A jury sentenced Richardson to death in 2014. Doyle said her office received the blessing of Skiba’s grandparents to name the dog and feels they’ve found the tribute they’ve searched for for years.
“We’ve been trying to find a way to honor Teghan’s memory,” Doyle said. “When the service dog project came to fruition and we learned that one of the services was helping children who were victims of abuse, it was just so fitting to name the dog after Teghan and carry on her memory in that way.”
Ford will be Teghan’s primary handler and said he mainly handles cases dealing with child victims of sexual assault.
“For children that come into the judicial system, it can be a struggle to get them to talk about what happened to them,” Ford said. “Teghan will assist in dealing with these incredibly stressful cases from the very first moment they come in contact with the judicial system. Dealing with our office will be associated with Teghan.”
Drew Jackson: 919-829-4577; @jdrewjackson