KEIZER, Ore. — You may have heard of CASA volunteers; court-appointed special advocates. Their sole purpose is to look out for the best interests of children in foster care.
But have you heard of a court-appointed canine? It’s a first in Oregon and her name is Lilly Mae.
“Lilly Mae is a rescue from Northwest Boxer Rescue,” said her human, Shaney Starr.
Lilly had a rough start. A puppy mill, a heart murmur and a shelter, before ending up with Starr almost a year ago.
“We adopted her and she’s in her forever home now,” said Starr.
We met Lilly on the day she was headed for juvenile court. Not because she had done anything wrong, but because she does so many things right.
“Lilly Mae is funny, she loves to lick and give you kisses and cuddle,” said Starr. “She loves to just give love and get love. I just thought, this dog might be able to bring joy to a child’s life.”
Starr is the Executive Director of CASA in Marion County, and Lilly Mae is in training. She is learning how to comfort children in the foster care system when they have to go before a judge in court. Her job will be to sit quietly and close with children going through a traumatic event.
“I really hope that by having Lilly Mae there, the children will feel a little more secure, less scared,” said Starr.
That’s also what Marion County Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Cheryl Pellegrini is hoping for.
“I think there is a lot of research at this point about the effect that service animals and animals have on people,” said Judge Pellegrini. "And children have a special bond with animals.”
Which is why she was not only willing to open her courtroom to a service dog, but to hold a special swearing in ceremony for Lilly at the CASA offices in Keizer recently.
“Lilly, do you promise to faithfully fulfill your role as a special court-appointed canine advocate?” Judge Pellegrini asked. "Raise your paw if you do.”
Lilly did, and the applause that followed just confirmed that a tail wag and a little unconditional love can go a long way to making a bad day better.
“She loves kids and loves people,” said Starr. “And if she can bring comfort to a child that’s all we can ask for.”