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Call it a comeback tour!
Matt and Michelle Paden’s beloved Roxy Rocks is returning to Mountain Home after finding a job as an Arkansas courtroom facility dog with “PAWS for Justice” after graduating from the Canine Companions program earlier this year.
In celebration of her visit to Mountain Home, the Paden’s will be hosting a meet and greet event from 1-4 p.m. today at the Food Bank of North Central Arkansas. The event will be used to raise awareness and funds for September’s National Service Dog Month.
Roxy V and her fellow “PAWsome” companions will be raising money for the event through the sale of her “PAWicasso” artwork.
“Let’s give these four-legged heroes and their handlers something to bark about and welcome them to Mountain Home,” said Michelle Paden.
The concept of service dogs for people with physical disabilities began with Canine Companions in 1975 in a home office and a garage in California. Today, the training service has expanded to become one of the largest service dog organizations in the world and boasts six training centers across the United States.
Roughly one in four Americans is in need of a service companion, and Canine Companions provides them to children, adults, and veterans with disabilities free of charge.
Each dog from Canine Companions is bred from dogs that have been through the program’s training college. Dogs receive their names based on the alphabet letter assigned to each litter.
After volunteers receive some initial training on what is expected of them, they are then introduced to puppies before taking them home to train them before entering “Puppy College.” The Padens received Roxy V when she was around two months old and have been responsible for paying all of her expenses, including food, bills, and vet costs.
The Padens began their training adventure with Canine Companions in 2017 after their nephew Grant Pyle received his service dog, Waldie, from the organization. Pyle, who was in a car accident that limited his mobility in 2013, quickly bonded to his new dog.
After seeing how the organization affected Pyle, the Padens decided to give back to Canine Companions by volunteering to take on their first dog, Celene, who now lives with them full time after failing to make it through “Puppy College.”
“Celene was our first puppy in program that we trained,” Michele Paden said. “And we turned her in February of 2020 right as COVID was ramping up. Unfortunately, she did not make it. She was in professional training for about six months, and when they’re released, puppy raisers have the first choice to adopt them. So, we did adopt Celene, and she’s our forever pet now.”
Both Michell and Matt said the difficulty in parting with Celene as she left for training was amplified by the family sending their daughter off to college.
“I knew it was going to be hard,” Michele Paden said. “But it was harder than what I thought it would be. After turning in Celene and then taking our daughter to college, we were like, let’s just take a break for a while.”
After waiting for a few months, Matt told Michele that he wanted to continue caring for and training service dogs, which eventually led to their temporary adoption of Roxy V in December of 2020 after they took back Celene into their home.
And that continuing need to care and train service dogs paid off, with Roxy Rocks graduating from the Canine Companion program in Irving, Texas, in February of this year. In celebration of her graduation, Roxy Rocks was introduced to Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who proclaimed September as “Service Dog Month” in Arkansas.
To graduate, Roxy Rocks had to learn over 40 basic commands, in addition to the specialized training needed to become a courthouse dog. Canine Companions education program spans into rehabilitation, education, criminal justice, to everyday companionship for children and veterans with disabilities.
Each Canine Companion dog is raised and trained specifically for its task and is valued at up to $50,000 each.
Roxy Rocks now serves as an Arkansas courtroom facility dog through “PAWS for Justice”, providing affection and calming influences to young children or adults who are called into court to testify. She is currently paired with Fawn Borden, a victim advocate/witness coordinator for the 20th Judicial District.
PAWS for Justice was founded in 2019 by the Office of the Prosecutor Coordinator. The Arkansas State Legislature passed a law in 2015 allowing the use of courthouse dogs for victims 18 and younger and expanded the law in 2021 to aid developmentally disabled witnesses.
The program started with Barb, a three-fourths Labrador retriever and one-fourth golden retriever, who was paired with Susan Bradshaw, a victim/witness coordinator for the 20th Judicial District. The program was then expanded to include Roxy Rocks and Ari, another mixed golden retriever and black Labrador.
All three dogs are graduates of the Canine Companion program.
“Child victims are probably the most traumatized by violent offenses,” said Washington County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Durrett during an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “These highly trained dogs have been shown to comfort those victims and put them at ease while testifying. It’s hard enough for an adult victim to testify in a trial but imagine what it’s like for a 10-year-old. These dogs have been trained to calm victims while staying out of sight of the jury to avoid any prejudice to a defendant.”