Botetourt County’s new court therapy dog helping victims, witnesses

Meet Seamus the poodle, taking away people’s stress one pet at a time

Get to know the newest four-legged employee with the Botetourt County court system

BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. – These days, the Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney for Botetourt County has a new four-legged partner by her side.

Seamus is Gillian Deegan’s new buddy, and they both spend a lot of her time in the courthouse.

The poodle is training to be a courthouse facility dog, comforting victims and witnesses of crimes, with the help of local dog training company Wags by Wegel.

“For kids, a lot of times, it’s easier to talk to a dog than a human,” said Deegan. “You can see when people start petting him, everything kind of calms down. The anxiety goes away.”

When the Virginia General Assembly approved the use of “certified facility dogs” in court back in 2018, Deegan knew she wanted to find the right dog for the job. Fast forward to May of this year, Deegan met Seamus and knew he was the one.

“If there was ever going to be a dog, he has the calm demeanor, the disposition. He truly just wants to be with people,” said Deegan. ”So I decided to give it a try and I adopted him.”

Deegan has seen just about every side of the criminal justice system as a police officer, an attorney, and a victim.

“When I was 20, I was the victim of a violent crime. And I went through the court system and, of course, I didn’t know anything about it. I was a college student,” said Deegan. “It was scary. It was intimidating. It was, in some instances, a little dehumanizing. You know, it was almost as if there were times where you felt like you were being re-victimized.”

Deegan didn’t want anyone to suffer as she did. Throughout her career, she’s worked to help victims through the process.

“It’s not by choice that they’re here, but let’s make it better,” said Deegan.

Seamus has lived through trauma of his own. He was picked up as a stray by the Regional Center for Animal Care and Protection emaciated. Angels of Assisi took him in and cared for him.

“He was in rough shape,” said Lisa O’Neill, the executive director at Angels of Assisi. “His hair was long and matted. And at the time you really couldn’t tell how thin he was because he had so much hair and dirt and grime and matting on him.”

Despite all that, O’Neill said employees at the shelter could see there was something special about Seamus.

“You could see that little spark in him. He was very unsure of things, but there was that little spark that was like, ‘Hey! Underneath all of this, I’m pretty cool.’ So once we saw that, we knew he had a lot of potential,” said O’Neill.

Deegan spotted him on their website, met Seamus at his foster home, and the rest is history.

Deegan said the court system has come a long way since she went through it. She hopes other courthouses will consider four-legged employees too.

However, funding for the new furry friends poses a challenge. Training a service animal is time-consuming and expensive.

As a result, Deegan said she’d like to see corporate sponsors help others cities and counties fund their own courthouse facility dogs.

“There is so much trauma involved, that we don’t need to re-traumatize,” said Deegan. “We need to make things easier.”

Three months later, Seamus has put on 20 healthy pounds and found where he belongs.

“We have phenomenal animals that are just languishing in shelters,” said Deegan. “Go and find your own Seamus.”

About the Author:

You can watch Lindsey during Virginia Today every weekend or as a reporter during the week!