NORRISTOWN — Offering her paw as a sign of affection, Nutmeg eagerly greeted Montgomery County Chairwoman Judge Carolyn Tornetta Carluccio on the dog’s first visit to the courthouse where she is set to work as a comfort dog .
“She is absolutely gorgeous. She likes. She definitely took away some of the stress I’m feeling right now. As soon as she walks into a room, everyone is drawn to her. She bends over, you can tell she wants to be against somebody,” Carluccio gushed as Nutmeg snuggled up to her as they met in the judge’s chambers. “It’s just a blessing for this court, this community, to have the benefit of a therapy dog, someone like Nutmeg. I can only see positive things coming out of this experience.
Nutmeg, an 11-month-old Goldendoodle, was recently adopted by the Montgomery Child Advocacy Project, the nonprofit group formed two decades ago that provides free legal representation and social services to child victims or witnesses of abuse and of negligence.
Mary J. Anders, manager of Nutmeg and deputy executive director of MCAP, explained that the agency acquired the comfort dog from New Hope Assistance Inc., a nonprofit organization in Warren County that trains dogs. assistance for children and adults.
“They paired her with us. She suits us perfectly, she is a sociable person. It was brilliant,” said Anders, a former county detective who also worked as a public safety investigator and education officer at Cabrini University in Radnor. “She just wants to love.”
When she’s not wearing her blue “Service Dog In Training” vest, Nutmeg is “like a regular puppy,” said Anders, who Nutmeg will live with.
“She jumps everywhere, plays with her ball. Then when I have her dressed, she is ready to go to work. She follows commands,” Anders said as Nutmeg waited and followed the command that got him in touch with the judge.
Prior to coming to MCAP, Nutmeg’s training included a stint at Pine Grove State Correctional Facility as part of a prison puppy training program run by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
Bringing a smile to everyone she meets, the compassionate and playful Nutmeg is also hypoallergenic.
“She’s going to see different kids, different people, so we have to take that into account,” Anders said.
Children are referred to MCAP by the Court of Common Pleas, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender, district judges, police departments, social service agencies, and Mission Kids, a child advocacy center for abused children.
“We will make it available to all of our associates and to any victim or witness to a crime who needs the support of a comfort dog,” said Mary C. Pugh, CEO of MCAP. “Being in court, testifying, the whole court process, is intimidating for adults. For the kids, it’s overwhelming and it just adds that layer of comfort and that layer of security that an animal can provide. She definitely comes with this unique talent.
County officials have long recognized the invaluable support, unconditional love and peace that comfort dogs can bring to victims of crime and other witnesses when they have to testify in court. A therapy dog previously sponsored by the District Attorney’s Office sometimes sat at the feet of child victims in the witness box during trials, offering young witnesses comfort as they testified about troubling and traumatic issues.
“I think Nutmeg is going to have an impact that will go far beyond anything we can verbalize or put in writing,” Carluccio said as Nutmeg planted numerous kisses on his chin. “MCAP is behind this, it’s so important.”
As a new staff member at MCAP, Nutmeg has already lifted the spirits of child advocates during times of stress, Anders said.
At MCAP, volunteer attorneys support and protect frightened and overwhelmed children as they navigate the justice system. Children’s advocates respond to the needs of children who are victims or witnesses in cases of family violence when the interests of the child are often in conflict with the rest of the family. The MCAP attorney acts as the child’s voice and protector in the legal arena.
Currently, the organization has approximately 125 trained and dedicated volunteer lawyers who donate approximately 7,400 hours each year to the children it serves.
Nutmeg will be available to comfort children who are being questioned by child advocates or law enforcement and will potentially be available to children when they come to court.
“There will be limits to where she can be and how she can be seen and we will be very mindful of the rights of defendants in relation to the use of a therapy dog like Nutmeg,” said explained Carluccio. “I can see it being used behind the scenes. I can see it used in the courtroom.
“I think this will go a long way to helping kids who have to deal with this really daunting experience. All the love and kindness we can give to these children, it’s amazing what more a dog can give,” added Carluccio.
The non-profit group used a grant from the Walmart Community Grants Program, offered by the local Walmart in West Norriton, as well as funds from generous donors to purchase Nutmeg.
To learn more about MCAP or to make a contribution, interested parties can visit the non-profit organization’s website at www.mcapkids.org