Beloved canine alleviates courtroom anxiety

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. (WNDU) - It's a nerve-wracking experience for victims who take the stand, but at the Berrien County courthouse, it's a different story.

Mr. Weeber is one of many dogs who are apart of the Canine Advocacy Program, an initiative that provides dogs to child victims to play with and accompany them in court to help ease anxiety.

Mr. Weeber is a familiar face around the courthouse.

"He's very laid back and relaxed," said his owner, Jeff Taylor, the Berrien County chief trial attorney. "He's very friendly, loves kids and can tell if someone is upset because he'll go running to them."

The pooch begins his day like most of us: waking up, eating breakfast and heading to work.

"He comes to work with me every morning and, depending on if he works or not, he'll come in and make his rounds with the people around the office," Taylor said.

Mr. Weeber even has his own office, complete with a bed, a water dish and lots of toys. However, the dog serves a valuable purpose.

"When we have CSE cases -- that's criminal sexual conduct cases with children as the victim -- he'll go on the stand with them," said Catherine Reifschneider, one of Mr. Weeber's handlers. "They'll testify with them sitting at their feet."

"I think it gives them a little security and a little confidence," Taylor said. "They get to walk into the courtroom holding his leash."

That is, when Mr. Weeber's awake.

"Sometime Mr. Weeber snores on the stand," Reifschneider said. "He's the only courthouse employee allowed to sleep. If the child is feeling a little clammed up, and they hear him snore, it kind of snaps them out of it."

Mr. Weeber joined the Berrien County Prosecutor's Office in August of 2014, getting adopted by the chief trial attorney's family after their family dog passed away. Kids, too, have fallen in love with Mr. Weeber, leaving him notes and pictures in his office to say thank you.

"The office loves it, people are very receptive to it," Taylor said. "You come into work and have a friendly face and, again, the kids love it. Several of them have just fallen in love."

His unique name came from a popular founding father in a small town in Iowa where Mr. Weeber was raised as a puppy. He has the most unique name of any dog in the Canine Advocacy Program.

For this beloved canine, his days are full of chew toys, long naps and making children smile. He is a bright spot in the midst of so much darkness.