Zero, South Australia’s inaugural court companion dog, will be retiring from active service, due to health issues.
The trail-blazing Labrador has been a game-changer both in the court room, where he is able to provide support to vulnerable witnesses and victims, and around the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP).
Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said Zero is a pioneer, whose positive influence has had a profound effect on the justice system in South Australia.
“Zero has brought joy to so many, both as a court companion dog, and as a member of the ODPP’s team.
“His calming energy and friendly nature have made him a public service icon, with staff across the entire Department commenting on the positive force he brings.
“I thank Zero for his service and congratulate him on his stellar career,” she said.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Martin Hinton said Zero is a much-loved member of the team and will be sorely missed.
“Zero has proven his worth ten times over. He conducted his day duties with distinction, and lifted the spirits of all who came across him in the office.
“I commend Zero’s handler, Darren, for his tireless work and commitment,” he said.
Zero started working in the ODPP in 2018, with legislation enabling him to enter the courtroom passing the Parliament at the end of 2020.
During his time, he has helped hundreds of vulnerable victims and witnesses by providing a calming, securing influence during their times of need.
One parent of a vulnerable witness has told the ODPP how Zero’s calming influence changed her daughter’s level of anxiety in her preparation for trial.
“The first time we went in for the meeting we did not have the privilege of having Zero for assistance and my daughter had anxiety the night before, rough sleeps and (was) not eating,” she said.
“To see, feel and note the massive difference was huge. She wasn't sick, her appetite was normal, she slept normal and went home chirpy, talking about Zero to her friend and siblings.
“I cannot thank you enough for allowing her the opportunity to have the few hours with Zero – I believe the second visit with Zero made her more relaxed and confident to approach the next step, the trial itself.”
The canine court companion program is an initiative of the ODPP and Guide Dogs SA/NT, which says, while Zero’s early retirement is unexpected, work is underway to find a dog who could follow in Zero’s paw-steps.
“Unfortunately, Zero has suffered health issues unrelated to his work, so Guide Dogs and the ODPP have made the joint decision to retire him from active service,” Guide Dogs SA/NT CEO Aaron Chia said.
“Guide Dogs is now working with several dogs that showcase similar traits to Zero, so a new companion can continue the great work undertaken by ‘Zero the Hero’,” he said.
In the meantime, Zero will continue to come into the office to support his colleagues, as he is cared for by his handler.
“It is now his time to be supported with the same level of care and compassion he has provided through his working life,” Mr Chia said.