Last fall, a young girl was brought into the Summit County Attorney's office to talk about sexual abuse she had suffered. She was extremely shy and ashamed, and refused to talk to prosecutors and detectives who were conducting the investigation.
Victim's Advocate Director Marsha Probst had an idea. She drove home to Midway and picked up her recently adopted Chihuahua ChiChi, and drove her back to the courthouse. ChiChi gently leapt into the lap of the now-beaming girl. After a few minutes with the docile dog, and prodding by the officials, the girl started talking to the dog about the abuse she had gone through.
That was the first experience the nine-year-old dog had in the court system, and that breakthrough led her to recently undergo training in Washington D.C. and being certified by the United States Service Dog Registry. ChiChi is thought by county officials to be one of the first -- if not the first -- Chihuahuas to be certified in the nation as an official service dog for use in the courthouse.
"Normally, what you see are labs," said County Attorney David Brickey. But ChiChi is so calm, and so obedient, that the dog is a perfect companion for young abuse victims that in the past might have just used dolls to serve as surrogates. The dog has a limited skill-set -- in a good way -- by being able to remain unobtrusive and not be distracting.
Smaller dogs like ChiChi aren't usually envisioned as service animals because they can be more high-strung, Probst said.
Probst noticed that ChChi was especially good with her grandchildren. The Chihuahua had lived most of its life indoors, with her caretakers working away from the house for long stretches of time. "Her neglect in the past leads her to want to be around people," Probst said.
ChiChi has become a popular resident of the Summit County Justice Center -- she is around Probst seven days a week, 24 hours a day, even at work -- and has even led some adult victims to ask if they can hold ChiChi during depositions or hearings.
Brickey expects that once word gets out about ChiChi, other counties will request the Chihuahua be used on occasion for their young abuse victims. And ChiChi seems to be happy about it.
"ChiChi loves the attention," Probst said.