Service Dog Dropout Now Finds His Niche as an Emotional Support Dog

Anderson County District Attorney General’s Office
Anderson County District Attorney General’s Office

He works in a district attorney's office now.

The third time was a charm for a 4-year-old dog that didn’t make the cut as a search and rescue dog or a service dog for handicapped individuals. 

Jake, a Labrador mix, has now found his place in Tennessee at the Anderson County District Attorney General’s Office as an emotional support dog.

Dubbed, “Jake the DA Dog,” the canine now works in the office three to four times a week and even supports victims in court.

“He was originally trained to be a search and rescue dog to find people who are trapped or injured inside a collapsed building, but some dogs have sensitive paws and his were too tender for that work,” General Dave Clark told “He was referred to an adoption agency for service dogs. An employee in my office adopted him to try to retrain him.”

But as Jake was being trained to work with handicapped individuals, his old training to smell a cadaver kicked in on more than one occasion.

“As they were training him, he had difficulty because if he smelled a cadaver or the smell of death, he would run to it,” Clark said. “Even though it only happened a few times, they felt they could not put him with the handicapped if he had the urge to bolt toward that smell.”

It wasn’t until Jake’s owner, Rhoni Brooks Standefer, who works in the district attorney’s office, brought Jake into the office five months ago that the dog found just where he belonged.

“When she brought him to work we noticed how gentle and empathetic he seemed to be. By chance, he was here with her when a victim came in,” Clark said. 

Jake immediately sensed the victim’s emotional need and began comforting her. 

“This victim had been beaten and injured very badly and was traumatized by the crime. She also had a very difficult time talking about it,” Clark said. “She enjoyed having Jake there. It was a comfort to her. That was an indication to us that he may have some important function and that maybe it could be duplicated for other victims.”

And that ended up being the case. They decided to have Jake present with other victims.

“He has a sense of when people were in need. He will lay his head in their lap and gravitate toward them so they will find that comforting,” Clark said. “His discipline and demeanor are unchanged. He performs like any service dog because he has had a lot of training. He responds immediately to commands but the empathy that he expresses and feels is untrained. That is just him.”

Jake attends court two days a week and even stands up when the bailiff says, “All rise.”

“We didn’t train him to do this," Clark said. "He just does it because he sees everyone else do it I guess."