Every dog has its day … but not every dog has its day in court.
After 10 years on the job — 70 in dog years — black Labrador and courthouse dog Cassie has worked her last day. For the past decade, Cassie, a member of the National Courthouse Dog Association, has been helping children and parents deal with the anxiety of going through the judicial process with a wagging tail and unimpeachable juris-pup-dence.
Cassie celebrated her last day at the Spring Adoption Day at the 2nd Judicial District Court of New Mexico on Friday. When Chief Judge Marie Ward entered the courtroom, everyone in attendance rose — but Cassie ran up to the judge, presenting her tummy instead. Ward applauded the gray-eared pup on her forthcoming retirement.
“Congratulations,” Ward said to the Labrador. “I’m gonna be right behind you.”
Veronica Montaño-Pilch, a longtime Court Appointed Special Advocate and the executive director of New Mexico Kids Matter, said Cassie will be retiring to
‘s residence, and will spend her days napping, chasing squirrels and sunbathing.
Montaño-Pilch has been Cassie’s main handler for a decade. Ten years ago, Montaño-Pilch went to Assistance Dogs of the West to pick a courthouse dog. She thought she’d like a labradoodle. But it ended up being Montaño-Pilch who was picked — by Cassie. The pup ran up to Montaño-Pilch and started licking her toes, and a partnership was born.
“It was strange to me,” Montaño-Pilch said. “I thought I got to pick — no, she picked me.”
Cassie’s tail hardly stopped wagging during Adoption Day, and she would often park at people’s feet, looking for belly scratches.
Cassie was the first trained courthouse dog at the 2nd Judicial District Court. But she won’t be the last. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree — Nicole, her successor, is Cassie’s great-niece.
Montaño-Pilch said, however, the two dogs are “night and day.” Nicole, a golden Lab who Montaño-Pilch calls Blondie, has to carry around a stuffed animal as a pacifier.
“Cassie is very professional, very classy,” Montaño-Pilch said. “If you’re seeing her, she’s sitting. … She know what she’s supposed to do.”
Nicole is more like a “little kid,” Montaño-Pilch explained. But she’ll learn. Even Cassie has her vices as Montaño-Pilch had to keep an eye on her to stop her from stealing cookies, and recalled once when she unwrapped and ate a Blake’s Lotaburger.
Like Nicole, Cassie went through training to become comfortable with strange people approaching and petting her. But, Montaño-Pilch said, Cassie’s real gift was finding the person in the room that needed her the most.
“That’s what makes a good courthouse dog,” Montaño-Pilch said.