Coryell County’s Crime Victims Office has four-footed advocate
By BRITTANY FHOLER
When someone is a victim of a crime in Coryell County and has to visit the District Attorney’s office, they are greeted by a friendly, furry face.
Winston, a two-year-old Labradoodle, is a therapy dog whose sole job is to help put victims and their families at ease when they come in and have to relive one of the worst moments of their lives.
Winston goes home with Crime Victims Assistance Coordinator Jenny Featherston most nights.
Featherston works primarily with Coryell County District Attorney Dusty Boyd on any death-related cases and with fraudulent or theft cases. There is another coordinator who works with victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Winston came from Patriot Paws, an organization whose mission is “to train and provide service dogs of the highest quality at no cost to disabled American veterans and others with mobile disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder in order to help restore their physical and emotional independence,” according to their website.
A couple years ago, Coryell County had contacted Patriot Paws to borrow dogs for trials involving children. Featherston estimated that they used four different dogs before she asked about what the organization did if a dog wasn’t able to complete the program. Patriot Paws informed her that they give away those dogs, and Featherston asked for Coryell County to be placed on a waiting list.
Nine months later, Patriot Paws called and said they had a dog available. Winston became a member of the Coryell County family in early 2019.
Winston went through only one year of the two-year program and “they realized that he was not one that was going to save your life, but he would love you, so that’s what we need in our office is a dog that pays very close attention, is very sensitive to our victims, and it didn’t matter whether he could pick up the telephone for you,” Featherston said.
Winston is able to get victims, especially the children, to open up.
“They don’t want to talk at all,” Featherston explained. “They meet Winston, and he tears down that wall real quick, and they start playing with him. They’ll talk while they’re playing with him. He has helped a tremendous amount. Instead of hating coming here, they look forward to it.”
There have been instances where Winston senses which victim or family member of a victim needs him most, which has been amazing to see, Featherston said.
District Attorney Dusty Boyd had nothing but praise for Winston.
“Some of the best things that happen to us, things that just fall into our lap and that’s certainly what happened with Winston,” Boyd said.
When it came down to accepting Winston, Boyd’s office coordinated with County Attorney Brandon Belt’s office to make sure Winston had the maximum exposure to victims in Coryell County.
Boyd said it was a no-brainer to accept Winston and put him to work.
“Once he got here and he started engaging in this job, so to speak, it was amazing to watch the reaction of our victims as they come into the office, and I can tell you there was a distinct reaction that I hadn’t seen before,” Boyd said.
Boyd added that nobody wants to go to a prosecutor and retell and relive their worst moments.
“Being able to observe how when people come in and they see Winston and how it just disarms them and it just creates a completely different environment to engage with us, especially with the children- the children, seeing their faces light up, it’s amazing,” Boyd said. “That gives us a tremendous leg up in our Crime Victim Services in terms of my attorneys and my staff being able to interact with people, especially with the kids that are already real reserved so it’s not as sharp now. You’re not coming to see a lawyer and you’re going to talk about what happened to you. You’re coming to see Winston and the lawyer is a secondary part.”
Boyd shared that Coryell County was the only Central Texas county with a therapy dog such as Winston who provided comfort to victims and their families. Other counties that Boyd has communicated with that have a similar program include Tarrant and Kaufman Counties.
Having Winston in the office helps out the staff as well.
“He’s a good, healthy distraction from time to time,” Boyd said. “You know, in light of the types of cases that this office handles, it’s important that not only the victims but the staff have that mental relief to watch him and to have fun and play with him and kind of bring us back to the ground instead of being up in the sky fighting all these other issues we have with these heavy cases.”
Boyd called Winston “one of the luckiest things that’s happened to us.”
As a trained therapy dog, Winston is worth $35,000, Boyd said. In addition to being gifted by Patriot Paws, his ongoing training is also free.
However, while Winston was donated to the county, there are still costs associated with his upkeep. Being a labradoodle, he needs to be groomed regularly and eats a lot. He has also visited the vet often for his ears.
“We looked back through our budget from last year of donations we ran off of, and for him, for the year, it was about $1,500,” Featherston said.
Staff have paid for some of the cost of caring for Winston out of their own pockets to avoid using all donations or taxpayer dollars, Featherston added.
“We definitely need help with that,” Featherston said.
The office has set up an allotment for him under Coryell County Dog Fund. People interested in donating can send donations by check or money order to the Coryell County Dog Fund and send to PO Box 919 Gatesville, Texas 76528 or drop off payment at the District Attorney’s Office at 203 S. 7th Street in Gatesville.
Featherston said they plan to develop a quarterly newsletter to send to donors featuring updates on Winston.