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Contra Costa DA gets canine assistance when working with children on cases

Contra Costa DA gets canine assistance when working with children on cases
Contra Costa DA gets canine assistance when working with children on cases 03:12

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY -- The court process can often be intimidating for children who are witnesses or victims of violent crimes, which has led the Contra Costa District Attorney's office to enlist a canine friend to assist in the process. 

Meet Bear, a five-year-old Black Labrador and Golden Retriever mix that is helping investigators connecting with young victims and witnesses.

"Bear picks up on things that I would never pick up on. We humans don't realize how nervous someone is or how anxious they are, but Bear does," said Janet Era, an investigator with the DAs office and also Bear's handler. 

She is part of the team that interviews children after crimes have occurred. The children are often victims of sexual assault or molestation, or they've witnessed violent crimes, like domestic violence involving their parents.

"Bear's most important job is to get victims through probably the most uncomfortable times in their lives," said Era. She admitted she was initially skeptical about how bringing a dog to the interviews could help.

"The types of cases we were dealing with, nothing you could bring or say or do would make a victim feel any better," she said.

Bear was donated to the DAs office in 2019 by Canine Companions for Independence – a non-profit organization based in Santa Rosa that provides service dogs to adults, children and veterans with disabilities at no cost to the recipient.

Contra Costa County DA's office canine companion
Contra Costa County DA's office canine companion. CBS

"I've had children who refuse to speak to law enforcement or who don't want to testify. And then I bring Bear in and their entire demeanor changes, their attitude changes," explained Era.

Bear also goes to court to support children as they testify on the witness stand. He'll often curl up at their feet or put his head in their lap if he senses them getting upset.

Deputy District Attorney Chris Sansoe says the first case he won with Bear in the courtroom was a home-invasion robbery case.

"I'd say an eight or nine year old victim who was hog tied with zip ties with a gun to his head. And that child was terrified of coming to court or being in the same room as the person who did it to him," said Sansoe. He explained how that changed when Bear was able to join the victim on the witness stand.

"He was able to not only testify, but he actually looked at the person who did it to him and identified him," said Sansoe.

Since then, the Contra Costa District Attorney's office has won every case where they've used Bear. Sansoe says the testimony from the children witnesses is often critical to making their case.

"I think that really speaks wonders to his ability to work with children," he said.

A number of defense attorneys have challenged Bear being in the court room, but so far judges have all said it's OK for him to be there and many even have jury instructions explaining his role in court.

Bear isn't serious all the time. Janet says Bear often helps employees at the DA's office blow off a little steam.

"People are stressed out about a bunch of different jobs and he just kind of wanders the halls and visits people," said Era.

The Contra Costa DA's office is encouraging other law enforcement agencies to look into facility dogs like Bear. So far they've met with representatives from San Francisco Police as well as the Solano County DA's office.

To learn more about Canine Companions for Independence, you can visit their website at

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