Doggie School drop out becomes Berrien County employee
Berrien County recently hired a very handsome new employee. He has deep, soulful eyes, a medium build, a sweet personality and is proving to be a huge hit with his female colleagues. Mr. Weeber works Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. as a companion, helping kids testify in court.
As he walked into Thursday morning's county commissioner meeting in St. Joseph, the group greeted Mr. Weeber with happy faces and kind words.
He wasn't on the roll call but did have a spot on the agenda.
"Here you are in the middle of the local election cycle and budget stuff starting to come up," said Prosecutor Mike Sepic. "And everyone who walked in this room smiled. That's the effect we want when a child comes to the courthouse."
Sepic and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Taylor introduced Mr. Weeber to the commissioners, handing out business cards with his picture on them.
"I think he should get a website!" exclaimed Commissioner Jeanette Leahy.
It's a face Leahy and her cohorts won't soon forget.
You see, Mr. Weeber is a 17-month-old black Labrador Retriever. As part of Michigan's Canine Advocate Program, he's been placed with the Berrien County Prosecutor's office to be a companion with children who have to go to the courthouse.
While he's trained for that position over the last three weeks, Mr. Weeber is also making his rounds through various county departments to meet his coworkers.
"Mr. Weeber, I've heard all about you buddy," said one county employee.
And the ladies love him.
"You're beautiful!" gushed one worker.
"Oh, baby! Come here!" said another.
Weeber went through intense training as a dog for the blind but flunked out of Leader Dog School earlier this year because of an ear infection and that's when the dog became available for a "career change," Taylor said.
"If you ever need babysitting you know where to come," joked one county worker.
"You're about [number] 200 on the list!" Taylor laughed.
The dog lives with Taylor, his wife and their two boys in St. Joseph, as their pet. The family's always had labs and a few months after theirs died in November, Sepic approached Taylor about Mr. Weeber. The Taylors pay all of the dog's vet and food bills. They also take him swimming and play with him to 'burn energy' every night after work.
"He's a great dog. Everybody loves him and you can tell," Taylor said.
When he's off the clock, you'll only find a collar around Mr. Weeber's neck. But when he's working, the lab wears a blue hankerchief around his neck. That means he doesn't get treats and isn't allowed to pay ball. But he is allowed to interact with people and he adores belly rubs.
Mr. Weeber's day job is inside the Berrien County Courthouse. He goes there every weekday morning with Taylor.
He's worked his way through training so he'll be able to sit on the floor, next to a child on the witness stand, who is probably testifying about something very difficult.
Mr. Weeber recently helped an adult domestic violence victim through court.
"She walked in, saw him, [said] 'He's such a great dog,' gave him a couple pets and he made the process a lot easier for her," Taylor said.
The command, 'OK!' tells Mr. Weeber he can get up from a position after he's been told to stay.
The comfort dog hasn't had the chance to help any kids in court yet but that could soon change. He might be called into action in a case involving a 6-year-old next week.
Mr. Weeber is 1 of 10 dogs in Michigan's K9 advocacy program.
Taylor said he doesn't know how the dog got his name - he came that way from Leader School and Taylor didn't want to change it. He thought the 'Mister' would be appropriate for the kids .