A little furry girl named Nova has made history in Minnesota, breaking new ground as the very first of her kind in the state.
Working towards fostering a more empathetic and comforting environment within the legal system, Minnesota’s Stearns County Attorney’s Office has welcomed a new, remarkable addition to its courthouse team.
With her unique ability to create an atmosphere of safety and understanding, a 6-year-old Golden Retriever, Nova, is redefining the way victims interact with the courthouse setting.
This adorable ball of fur offers a glimmer of hope and support during a very vulnerable time for many victims.
Minnesota’s First Courthouse Facility Dog
Nova was trained by Helping Paws, a Hopkins-based, leading non-profit organization that breeds, trains, and places assistance dogs.
She was assigned to a handler, Keli Trautman, who, besides being Nova’s handler, also works as a paralegal and victim/witness coordinator.
After finishing two-and-a-half years of training, Nova was placed with the Stearns County Attorney’s Office in 2019.
According to Helping Paws, a Courthouse Facility Dog is a “professionally trained dog that helps the most vulnerable witnesses feel willing and able to describe what happened and provide a calming influence during stressful legal proceedings”.
Nova and her handler have assisted many victims and witnesses over the years. In the summer of 2023, this little furry girl officially made history by being the first facility dog that was allowed to appear with the victim in the courthouse during testimony.
Nova is friendly and gentle, and knows many tricks to make someone feel safe and at ease.
“She’ll rest her head on someone’s lap and just let them pet her, she’ll lay down by their feet, she’ll nudge their arm if they’re not petting her or if their tone of voice changes,” Trautman told the West Central Tribune.
Redefining Support For Victims
For the first time in Minnesota, Nova, as a courthouse facility dog, was allowed to accompany a teenage victim on the witness stand during her trial testimony.
A 15-year-old girl testified that a 39-year-old man named Jairo Missael Fernandez Sorto had sexually assaulted her over a lengthy period of time.
The judge ruled that testifying in court can be quite traumatic for children, so Nova was brought in to reduce the stress and trauma.
“The victim broke down during sentencing, and moments later, in a separate room, Nova comforted her after the hearing,” said Assistant County Attorney Jamie Reinschmidt.
“Without Nova, the victim would not have had the emotional stamina to focus on the questions as thoughtfully and as clearly as she was able to,” Reinschmidt also commented.
As a result, the man was sentenced to 30 years of prison, and if it hadn’t been for Nova, the case would have had to be dismissed, according to StarTribune.
Although Nova is the pioneering courthouse facility dog in Minnesota, quite frankly making history throughout the country, this issue had already been addressed.
Fifteen other states have already codified courthouse facility dogs into law, but thanks to Nova, Minnesota is now one step closer to having facility dogs during testimonies as a standard practice.
Way to go, Nova. You are truly a beautiful example of how incredible dogs are. Keep up the good work.