ST. CLOUD – The Stearns County Attorney's Office officially got a new employee on Tuesday: a fluffy golden retriever with soft ears and kind eyes named Nova.

The attorney's office follows Ramsey and Hennepin counties in adding an emotional support dog. Nova's sister, Norie, is Ramsey County's emotional support dog, according to Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall, who said she hopes Stearns County will become the first in the state to allow Nova or other trained dogs to be in the courtroom to comfort victims as they testify.

During Tuesday's County Board meeting, Stearns County commissioners approved the transfer of ownership of Nova, who comes with upward of $40,000 worth of training.

"This is a valuable asset to the county but also just a welcome addition to our staff," Kendall said.

Nova was trained by Helping Paws Inc. of Hopkins. Her handler is Keli Trautman, a paralegal and witness coordinator with the county attorney's office.

Kendall said the county started working to get a facility dog in 2014; Trautman was paired with Nova in 2019. The pair graduated from the Helping Paws program in 2020 and became fully certified in late May.

"Nova has a number of skills, including opening doors and turning lights on and off," Kendall said, "but she is especially suited to be calm and collected and present for victims and witnesses who interact with the county attorney's office.

"So far we have met with about 20 victims and witnesses in homicide cases and domestic violence cases, but especially in child abuse cases and situations where children are asked to testify or just come in and talk to our office about the bad things that have happened to them in their lives," Kendall continued. "Due to the traumatic nature of much of what we handle, we feel she's been a real help."

Kendall said in addition to using Nova in the office, the county plans to bring Nova out in the community, too. The board unanimously approved Nova's transfer.

Jenny Berg • 612-673-7299

Twitter: @bergjenny