As Booberry meanders through the halls of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office’s headquarters led by her handler, Cpl. Jeffrey Roe, it’s clear to anyone watching that the little dog is a celebrity.
She pokes her head into offices to get some quick pets and scratches. In the hall people stop to say hello and get some slightly slobbery kisses. Even Sheriff Ron Freeman pops in to see her, greeting the little canine with a, “Hey Boo! How you doing?”
And when all is said and done, Booberry happily hops up onto Roe’s lap or curls up at his feet, her job done, for the moment at least.
Booberry is the latest canine member of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. But unlike her fellow four-legged deputies that sniff for drugs, take down bad guys and protect other two-legged deputies, Boo has a very important and specific job — putting people at ease, whether that be a child victim of sexual abuse or a station full of firefighters needing a pick-me-up after a hard day.
"If they've got some type of issue going on, all they've got to do is page me, 'Hey can you swing by?’” Roe, a detective with the major case unit and a task force agent with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force said on Tuesday. “And on the way home I'll swing by to let Boo hang out.”
Beyond Booberry’s natural good-natured attitude, Roe said that the 4-year-old mixed breed rescue is a trained emotional support therapy canine and a recent graduate of the “Paws and Stripes College” in Brevard County, Fla., which uses inmate labor in prisons to train therapy dogs for child victim advocate centers and individuals with PTSD.
Roe said that the sheriff’s office recently took Booberry in after the two went through a training program together so that the sheriff’s office can use Booberry as a tool to help victim children de-stress and interact with investigators from the local victim advocacy center.
Victim children, according to Roe, often have a hard time disclosing the abuse that they have suffered to authorities, and when the details of abuse aren’t disclosed, that makes it harder for law enforcement to hold criminals accountable.
When a therapy dog is there to comfort the child, the good emotions and endorphins produced by simply being around the dog make it easier for the child’s walls to come down and a disclosure to be made.
“Basically 'Boo's job is doing exactly what she's doing right now,” Roe said, gently petting Booberry as she sits curled up in his lap, head in the crook of his arm. “She's going to jump up in the kid's lap, the kid is going to start petting the dog … and with that comes ultimately their reduced inhibition to make that disclosure."
Roe said that other jurisdictions have seen marked increases in their “disclosure rate” for child victims upon introducing therapy dogs into the process. In Brevard County, where Booberry was rescued, Roe said that the sheriff’s office saw their disclosure rate rise from 31% to 80% with the help of therapy dogs.
"It's a tremendous tool because we're able to ultimately hold those accountable that are harming our local children and hopefully help to build that bridge to help rebuild that child's life,” he said. “So we've already started networking with our local child advocacy center. They've met Booberry, and they think that she's going to be a rock star.”
Soon, Roe and Booberry will be going to many forensic interviews at the child advocacy center in Forsyth County, showing up early so that Booberry can work her magic and sticking around afterward so the child knows Booberry is there for them.
"We remind the child, 'We're going to be here when you're done,' because oftentimes these victim children have no real stability in their life, they don't really have anything that they can count on,” he said. “So that's a very important meeting for that child – when she walks out of that interview, the first thing that she sees is Booberry sitting there."
Over the next few months, Roe said that Booberry will be getting her own vest embroidered with “Pet me I’m friendly” and the sheriff’s office star. He and Boo will also go through an advanced training with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs so she can visit nursing homes and hospitals.
Roe said that everyone from detectives working stressful cases at the sheriff’s office to senior citizens at the Forsyth County Senior Center could benefit from Booberry’s attention, so in the future they plan to expand on what Booberry is used for. Maybe Boo will get some other four-legged co-workers, too, he said."We're looking forward to all the things that Booberry's going to help us do over the next several years,” he said. “Hopefully she’s going to be the first in a long line of other canines like her to be in support roles here with the sheriff's office."