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Fredericksburg Circuit Court has four-legged clerk



Annie, Virginia's first 'K–9 Deputy Clerk,' waits near her human, Clerk of Court Jeff Small, for treats from Fredericksburg courthouse visitors

by: PAMELA GOULD/ The Free Lance-Star

Annie Small spends much of her workday at the Fredericksburg courthouse lounging on a soft brown bed in her cubicle. When customers come into the Circuit Court clerks' area, she won't come to the counter unless she senses the person is welcoming. She'll work, but only if commanded, and then she expects an immediate reward, not a paycheck two weeks down the road. Annie isn't a horrible example of a civil servant. Instead, according to those who work with her, she's one of the best. "She's just a joy to have around," said Deputy Clerk Sarah Dye. "And all the [sheriff's] deputies spoil her," added Deputy Clerk Cheryl Pyktel, one of Annie's closest friends. But Annie can be demanding—especially when she wants attention. "When I'm typing, sometimes she puts her head beneath my hand," said Deputy Clerk Jennifer Schulz.

Annie is a 4-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever. She's been "employed" in the Fredericksburg Circuit Court since Nov. 17, when she was paw-printed and became the state's first "K–9 Deputy Clerk," according to Clerk of Court Jeff Small. Small adopted Annie in 2012, after she failed the final step of a course at Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine that prepares dogs for work with law enforcement agencies. He learned about the program through a friend who has an explosive-sniffing dog used in federal buildings in Richmond.

Annie initially spent her days at home with Small's other Lab, Bernie. But when Bernie died last fall, Small started bringing her to work with him. They report to the first floor of the new courthouse, which opened in August. She now accompanies him most days, staying primarily behind the counter in the secure area where clerks have their cubicles. She makes occasional forays out of the building to handle her personal business, and often accompanies clerks on visits to the post office or City Hall.

She's also made friends within the Sheriff's Office, getting a warm greeting and a treat each morning from the deputies who handle courthouse security. "I'm the one that brings the dog biscuits but everyone knows where they are," said Deputy Mike Holmes. 'GOOD FOR STRESS'. "I taught her the best trick," said Deputy Tom Worthy, who spent 23 years working in animal control. That trick is placing a treat on Annie's nose, which she flips into her mouth. "I think it's good for stress," Worthy said of her presence. "A lot of people aren't so happy coming through and they seem to take it out on us. "Obviously, having a dog around is therapeutic—and the more we deal with people, the more we like Annie," he said with a smile.


In February 2012, Stafford County was the first in Virginia to employ a "courthouse dog"—one trained to help ease the stress of victims and witnesses, especially children who have been abused. Kahn, a black Lab, started his courthouse work at age 2 with Victim–Witness Assistance Program assistant Juanita Maley. That work is part of a trend that started with Courthouse Dogs LLC in Washington State. Small said he's also heard of a clerk who brought a cat to a courthouse in the Northern Neck and a Chesterfield County judge who brought a dog to work with him. But, as far as the Supreme Court of Virginia could tell Small, Annie is the first and only sworn K–9 clerk in the state. He proudly displays the framed certificate for her position. After about five months on the job, Annie's gotten to know the regulars—such as the mailman, deputies and title researchers—who come to the clerk's office. "When she hears them, she walks around and puts her paws on the counter," Small said. "They all bring her treats." Annie's oath of office says she will faithfully and impartially discharge her duties and though she doesn't have an official job description, Small said her role is clear. "Her job is to raise morale around the office," he said, "and the minute she fails to do that, she's going to be sent home."