Trials & Litigation

Pioneering Labrador retriever to retire after 7 years at courthouse, will now 'just be a dog'


One of the nation’s first service animals trained to work with witnesses in court is retiring after about seven years on the job.

Stilson, an 80-pound black Labrador retriever, will be moving to California from Washington state with his longtime owner and handler, Heidi Potter, who is pursuing other opportunities there, reports the Seattle Times.

A very people-oriented animal, Stilson was trained to lie absolutely still while with witnesses during Snohomish County court hearings but was more interactive when they were initially meeting with prosecutors. Some children talked directly to the dog.

He was able to absorb the grief and hurt from witnesses, then let it go, Potter said. However, she recalls him as being wiped out after a day’s work during his first six months or so on the job, ready to call it a night and sack out as soon as he’d eaten his dinner.

Now, after years of loyal service, “He’s burned out,” she told the newspaper. “He’s almost 9 years old and he’s worked with hundreds of children. He’s had hundreds of kids crying on him and climbing on him. It’s time for him just to be a dog. It’s time for him not to always be on his best behavior.”

Related article:

ABA Journal (2007): “At this Prosecutor’s Office, a Furry Soft Spot for Kids”

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