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Support dog “Bear” heals Richmond’s hearts

on October 10, 2019

Bear is, in many ways, just like countless Richmond residents. He wakes up each Monday, puts on his uniform, and gets ready to work a full day. When he’s off the job, he likes to spend time with family, goof around, run, swim and stay active. The only difference is, Bear is a dog. 

The two-year-old black Labrador retriever is the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office’s newest member of the investigative unit, where he serves as an emotional support animal. Whether he’s helping victims of trauma, or sitting with child witnesses in court as they testify, Bear has been trained to be an integral part of the unit’s operations. 

Though Bear was bred to be a service dog, his “perfect, chill demeanor” made him an ideal candidate for the District Attorney’s Office. Despite his more specified role, Bear continues to wear his service tag that allows him to work with victims and witnesses in public places. 

Janet Era, Bear’s handler, is responsible for working with the talented pup. Bear has the temperament of a “saint,” and is extremely obedient, even when assisting volatile victims, Era says. When Bear is around her three-year-old, who “tests his limits,” he remains calm and continues to fulfill his emotional support duties. 

Bear receiving a hug from an affectionate friend. Photo courtesy of Janet Era.

Part of Bear’s training has empowered him to more easily identify victims and people who need his help. Era explains that upon entering a room, Bear sometimes “gravitates” towards those who have experienced the most extreme amount of trauma. Though Era’s unsure of how Bear does this, she believes it relates to a person’s body language. His instincts are strong.  

In more formal settings, like court proceedings, Bear will rest his head on a witness’ lap, out of the sight of the jury, to comfort the person he’s serving. He wears a “noisy tag” that activates and jingles when a victim is agitated or crying. The noise alerts Bear that the victim needs additional service. 

Last week, Bear made an appearance at De Anza High School, where he spent time with students dealing with the aftermath of a recent shooting. Era describes the students as being “receptive” towards Bear, petting him, hugging him, and watching him do tricks. His specialties include high fives, fist bumps, and even building puzzles with kids. Era says they’re now “working on bowling.”  Bringing joy to the community is an inevitable byproduct of Bear’s role. 

Off the job, Bear is just a normal two-year-old dog. He loves to play with kids, goof around the house, and be a “total nutcase.” You might also find him posing for his popular Instagram account, “Cocok9bear.” However, come Monday, Bear will be back in uniform and on duty, serving Richmond’s traumatized survivors – or those who just feel like a bit of furry therapy. 

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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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