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Bannock County gets Salem: the new courthouse service dog for victims

Man’s best friend and now, Bannock County’s best friend.

The county courthouse has a new addition to its staff – a service dog to help trauma victims.

Salem can do a lot of things: turn on the lights, close a door, turn off the lights, crawl on your lap for company, and of course do things like fetch.

But when his vest is on, the two-year-old black lab also has a job to do.

“He changes people’s ideas, he changes what they’re thinking, takes a little bit of that stress off, it gives them a companion to be up on the witness stand,” said Tamela Manhart, victim/witness coordinator for Bannock County and also Salem’s owner.

Salem can sit for hours by a victim while they testify, or go through forensic interviews. He can comfort people when they’re upset. He can be a fun, cuddly distraction for those experiencing trauma.

Salem started the end of April and so far, Manhart said he’s doing a great job. He’s already the office favorite at the courthouse and he’s made a big difference in working with victims.

“A few weeks ago we were interviewing a child that had been a victim of some sexual abuse which is really hard for kids,” Manhart said. “And the child, after interviewing with the prosecutor, she was crying, tears running down her cheeks, I commanded Salem to go get the box of tissues. He went over, picked up the box of tissues in his mouth, and brought them over to the child. She immediately smiled and when she left she was talking about the dog and all the fun she had with the dog, and not reliving the trauma she had just talked about.”

Salem also sat through his first murder trial a few weeks ago. He sat at the feet of the victim’s family as they saw gruesome photographs and heard tough testimony.

Salem knows when his vest is on, he’s a working dog. But once the vest comes off, he’s a typical two-year-old lab – fun and playful.

“He loves going in and out between people’s legs, he thinks it’s fun,” Manhart said. “He absolutely loves his belly rubbed. He loves chewing on his toys – especially while he’s laying on his back. He loves playing fetch.”

Manhart said he’s been a lot of fun and already, people know who Salem is.

Friday afternoon there will be a meet and greet for the community to meet Salem. It’s Friday, June 1 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on the courthouse lawn. There will be free hot dogs and you can get your picture taken with Salem.

They will also be selling “Salem gear” to help pay the rest of the $8,000 bill it cost to bring Salem to Bannock County.

You can follow Salem’s adventures and learn more about him on his own Facebook page: Salem the Courthouse Dog.

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