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Phillip, the CASA dog, welcomed to new home

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After a little more than a year of losing Cooper the CASA dog to cancer, CASA of Lea County welcomed its new canine assistance dog Phillip to its office Monday.

Phillip, a one-and-a-half-year-old black English Labrador has been in training for the past several months preparing to work with the children of the CASA of Lea County program and those at the juvenile detention center. Mike Briseño, CASA of Lea County director, said Phillip was expected to arrive later than he did.

“Since Phillip was so advanced and he was just doing phenomenal and absorbing all the information and the training methods that they were teaching them, we got him a little bit early,” Briseño said. “Right now we have him in the office and getting him used to all the hustle and bustle. We plan to put him into action maybe in mid-January depending on how everything is going.”

Phillip will be living with Hope Hennessy, CASA community liaison and canine handler, who cared and worked with Cooper for about 6 1/2 years before he passed away in November 2016.

“It’s been going really well,” Hennessy said. “This time is just an opportunity for him (Phillip) get used to our daily routine coming to the office, leaving the office, getting used to my home and the other dogs there and my family. He has his own schedule when he was in training so right now he’s getting up at 3 o’clock every morning and that’s rough on me. This is just our time for him to get ready to work and it gives me an opportunity to see things that I may need to work on with him.”

Once Phillip starts working he will work with CASA children and those who are in juvenile detention offering emotional support.

“Our original intent (with Cooper) was for him to work in court with children, but it’s expanded now to where (Phillip) basically provides emotional support to children who are in the judicial system so whether they are in foster care as a result of abuse or neglect, whether they’re witnesses or victims of violent crimes or they are incarcerated in juvenile detention he’s there to provide them with emotional support,” Hennessy said.

“Studies have shown that dogs lower stress, anxiety, blood pressure and it helps the kids if they are in court be comfortable when they are testifying so they can find their words,” Hennessy added. “If they are in juvenile detention he’s just something they can look forward too. In juvenile detention they don’t have anybody and they know that (Phillip) is a privilege so if they break the rules they don’t get that time with him. They can love on him and hold him and hug him.”

Hennessy said Cooper had a huge effect on the Hobbs community and with the children and said Phillip is more than capable of continuing in Cooper’s paw steps.

“I was very nervous about it because after so many years of working with Cooper we had a rhythm and I was past the point that I didn’t have to use specific commands,” Hennessy said. “He knew what was expected of him and I would talk to him like he was a human. I think (Phillip) he’s going to be a really amazing dog. He’s super smart. He needs very little correction. We’re really excited to share him with the community and start working with the kids.”

Working with Phillip has been a different experience for Hennessy who said Phillip’s personality is completely different from how Cooper’s was.

“Cooper from the get-go was very in your face and everybody loves me,” Hennessy said. “Cooper believed that the whole world was in love with him. Phillip is much more reserved. He’s more respectful of people’s boundaries and that will be good because most kids love dogs, but not every child does and sometimes Cooper would be overwhelming to somebody who was not used to dogs. Phillip is a little easier to manage in that way. He definitely has the more stereotypical English personality where he’s more buttoned up and he tends to observe and say less. Whereas, Cooper was the consummate frat boy.”

Burkett Shaw
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