Waikiki is not just a famous beach; it’s also the name of the first tribal courthouse facility dog in the U.S. Although Waikiki is her formal name, the yellow Labrador retriever is known as Kiki, and she’s a well-trained and friendly dog who helps mitigate trauma for the children and adults who come to the Pueblo of Pojoaque Tribal Court in New Mexico.
Chief Judge Kim McGinnis and Probation Officer Dawn DeSmet are the dog’s handlers, and they’ve been trained by Assistance Dogs of the West (ADW), the same certified service dog organization that trained Kiki to be a facility dog.
With ongoing support from ADW, Kiki has become an asset to the Pojoaque Tribal Court. Early on, Kiki wanted to be with Judge McGinnis at all times, even trying to jump up on the bench. After all, she does stay with the Judge when she’s not working, so they had become bonded. But with additional time and training, she is now happy to interact with all court visitors and staff. While Kiki is always available, staff members do not push her on people who do not like dogs or who have had past trauma involving dogs.
There have been many positive results from having a courthouse dog in Pojoaque. Kiki has helped increase engagement with courthouse visitors and the community, while also helping to improve staff morale. She is even learning some cues in Tewa, the language of the Pojoaque Pueblo, and she sometimes attends community events with Judge McGinnis. Tribal leadership has been supportive of the courthouse dog program from the beginning.
A courthouse dog like Kiki often makes it easier for children to talk about their situation. The child can hug and pet the dog and tell the dog what they want to say, even when they can’t speak directly to the judge. For adults, the dog’s presence is calming, reducing trauma responses.
One of Kiki’s main jobs is to work in Pojoaque’s Path to Wellness Court. This is a program that accepts moderate to high risk individuals with substance use disorders. She spends a lot of time with the Probation Officer, attending hearings and going to support groups. Kiki also sits with children when they meet Judge McGinnis, and spends time with court personnel, who find that a little “Kiki time” helps them reduce stress.
Since Kiki has become part of the Path to Wellness program, staff members have seen how some participants have become more engaged, wanting to come to the courthouse to visit Kiki. This means they’re motivated to show up regularly, which is important so they can continue receiving services such as taking part in support groups.
When her workday is over, Kiki takes off with Judge McGinnis, who provides her with a loving home. Just like any of us, no matter how much Kiki enjoys her job, she needs some downtime to play and relax.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Judge McGinnis about Kiki on Episode 163 of the Working Like Dogs Show. Listen in to hear more about the first tribal courthouse facility dog.