A dog trained 3 times over for service duties failed at every attempt, until he paved his own way to the role of a comfort dog for domestic assault victims.
Meet Jake. This 4-year old black Lab mix has a captivating tale to tell.
Since birth, people have been trying to make Jake fit various service dog roles, but he kept failing. One day, he decided to show the people what his purpose was, and he found his place in the world.
Jake was born in California, where he was slated to be a search and rescue dog. In that role, he would go into destroyed buildings searching for survivors and cadavers. But his little paws were too sensitive for the intense environment, and at 15 months he flunked out.
But he was given a second chance and shipped out to Lenoir City to volunteer with the Smoky Mountain Service Dogs. Here, Jake was tasked with being the service dog of a physically challenged veteran.
Jake did an excellent job, quickly learning special skills such as sign language basics, opening the refrigerator, and shutting doors.
While Jake was excelling in some areas, he demonstrated a fatal flaw leftover from his first job role; when he was out walking, he would dart away unpredictably when he smelled what people presumed was a dead animal.
Jake just couldn’t forget his previous training, and his unpredictability meant he couldn’t be an effective service dog for this vet.
Next up, Jake got evaluated for medical service; people were hoping he could be trained to alert caregivers when a disabled person’s breathing machine went off. But alas, Jake slept too heavily for this role.
At this point many people would give up on the dog, and that was pretty much the case. His owner, Rhoni Standefer, had Jake in her care for his last two career failures. But then, by some miraculous accident, the two discovered Jake’s true calling together.
Fate Steps In
Standefer had resigned to give up on Jake being a service dog, and aimed to find him a home. She did not plan to keep him.
Standefer and her husband planned on selling their home for a condo and downsizing their life. But life had other plans.
Standefer’s 8-year old grandson, Gavin, has a special way with dogs, and was distraught to hear that his grandparents were going to give Jake another home. He begged them not to, and insisted that the dog stay.
Unwilling to inflict that level of pain on their grandson, the couple actually decided to keep their home and keep Jake, too.
After that, Standefer found a new job. She has been a victim/witness coordinator for Anderson County’s DA Domestic Violence in Tennessee since last January. Jake was living with her when she got hired.
One day, not even thinking about Jake’s career options, she brought the pup into work with her. Standefer said she brought Jake in with her that day just because he’s a good dog, and likes to get out.
But when she began working, Jake did something surprising.
Standefer had to meet with a domestic assault victim that day and discuss what happened with her. The victim was emotional, and was having difficulty with the discussion.
Jake recognized that she was distraught, and went over to the victim to lay his head on her lap and comfort her. And it worked. She was able to get comfortable enough after that to open up to Standefer and finish discussing the details of her trauma.
When Jake did this a second time with another victim unprompted, Anderson County District Attorney General Dave Clark told Standefer that they could be on to something.
And now Jake has been a comfort dog for the Anderson County DA’s office since July. To date, he has comforted about 50 victims and assisted in the legal process.
How Jake Works His Magic
According to Stendefer, Jake exhibits empathy all on his own, something that cannot be trained. He recognizes when people are distraught, and gravitates toward them – not because he was trained to, but because he wants to.
Jake loves people, and wants them to feel happy. He hardly even has to try to accomplish this; his simple calming presence is enough to relax most people. Victims can stroke his fur and pet his head while they have to endure the uncomfortable experience of recounting their terror in a courtroom.
Some people really respond positively and intensely to Jake. Some have even wept on his head as he worked to calm them. He helps them release their emotions in such a way that they can get on with the formal proceedings and let those emotions take the passenger seat for that time.
When Jake senses that someone is okay and doesn’t need him, he simply stays near Stendefer and leaves the person alone.
Jake works both in the courtroom and in Stendefer’s office, doing 2 or 3 days per week in each role. Jake works Monday-Thursday.
Jake even stands when the bailiff calls, “All rise”! Nobody trained him to do this; he just observed that this is how it’s done.
The pup plays his role very well in court. He naps under the prosecutor’s table while the proceedings occur. While he’s not usually needed at the witness stand, he can be there if the victim’s want him to be. Jake is quiet and doesn’t interfere with any proceedings.
Clark is very pleased with Jake’s performance. He actually attempted to train his own office therapy dog several years ago, but the Australian Labradoodle was too hyperactive. Clark decided to just keep him as the family pet.
But Clark couldn’t be more pleased that his wish has finally come true with the introduction of Jake to the court.
Clark says Jake makes it quicker and easier to get the truth out of witnesses, because his comfort makes the victims willing to speak more candidly than they can with just humans.
People find it much easier to trust dogs than people, especially if they are victims of abuse by humans.
Jake makes a scary and intimidating process much easier for people in pain, and he helps the court workers get in touch with their compassion and help the victims to the fullest extent possible.
To keep up with all the latest and greatest work of Jake, you can follow his Facebook page.