Ramsey County Attorney John Choi introduced his latest hire Tuesday, a sweet and telegenic golden retriever who gets paid in crunchy snacks to hang around and soothe visitors traumatized by crime.
Norie has been behind the scenes for the past month but already has proved her worth, according to Choi and her handler, victim-witness advocate Bill Kubes.
“The work that is presented to us can often be very sad, very tragic and adversarial,” Choi said at a news conference in his office while Norie sat quietly, napped and casually glanced around at the journalists and their cameras with her doleful brown eyes.
In addition to Kubes, Norie was accompanied by Sue Kliewer, client-service coordinator for Hopkins-based nonprofit Helping Paws, and Tami McConkey, director of victim-witness services in the prosecutor’s office.
Norie’s job is to do much of what she was doing at the news conference: providing a calming presence for clients who are nervous, distraught and wary of recounting painful stories to Kubes and others.
In the short time that Norie has been working for the county attorney’s office, Kubes, a former Minneapolis police officer, said he’s seen her soothing effect over and over on visitors, ranging from a frightened 6-year-old victim to an older homeless client who asked that Norie come back for a return visit.
Norie works with Kubes in the office Monday through Thursday.
On her off days, she lives and plays with Kubes and his three other dogs, two Bassett hounds and a Viszla. Once she’s established a bit more in Choi’s office, a backup handler also will learn to work with her.
Norie, a 2-year-old on the small side for her breed, was born and bred at Helping Paws.
The organization breeds and trains golden and Labrador retrievers mostly as service dogs for individuals. Working for a prosecutor is a new frontier for Helping Paws, but not uncommon in other jurisdictions across the country.
Service dogs long have been useful companions for the blind. In recent years their ability to provide support has been recognized for a list of maladies, from the physical to depression and anxiety.
Choi, a dog lover himself with a little Shihpoo named A.J. at home, said he’s been interested in bringing a so-called facility dog aboard since 2014 but wanted to take time to research and find the right match among several choices brought in by Helping Paws.
Norie has a gentle, loving nature that made her stand out from the pack.
“Everybody fell in love with her,” he said.
McConkey said they knew Norie was their dog when she remained focused despite a parade of recently released students streaming past her in the skyway. She was all business, McConkey said.
Her luxurious strawberry- blond coat looked soft, but stroking her was off limits. Norie wore her blue overcoat at the news conference, signaling that she was working and couldn’t be touched.
Much of Norie’s cost for breeding and training was borne by Helping Paws. Choi said she cost “a few hundred dollars” to acquire and will require about $8,000 annually for her work.
For now, her work will mostly be in Choi’s office. Eventually, she may be allowed into courtrooms with victims, possibly for hearings that don’t involve juries, McConkey said.
Kliewer said Norie is unusual among dogs trained by the organization, which mostly prepares companion animals that work one-on-one helping an individual.
She comes with at least one mystery: her name. Kliewer said the pup came from the “N” litter. As is customary, the family that fostered her and took her through training was allowed to name her. Kliewer didn’t know why the family selected that name.