HAMMOND, LA — One special dog is helping detectives in Tangipahoa Parish put child predators behind bars.
Hayward the dog comes to work every day at the Child Advocacy Center in Hammond to do one important job.
"Our whole goal here is to reduce the anxiety of the child and the family while they're here to talk about what has happened to them, and so he does that by just being here as a presence and just being here with the child," explained Joelle Henderson, the director of clinical services at CAS.
Hayward is the newest employee at the advocacy center, and while he spends a lot of time sleeping on the job, forensic interviewer Joelle Henderson says he's doing exactly what he should.
"We have kids who are having trouble telling me what they're here to talk about, and it's very difficult and they put their head down, and one hand with their head covered so they don't have to look at me and the other hand constantly petting him. And so we've had kids who really did not want to talk and hadn't told anyone, but they've chosen to come here because of Hayward," recounted Henderson.
Detective Chris Perry has been working in sex crimes for years, he depends on testimony and interviews with children who've been abused to put their attackers behind bars. He said since Hayward’s joined the team doing that has become a lot easier.
"You’ll see them sometimes just starting to pet Hayward and touch Hayward, and you can physically see the change, that nervousness go away. Just being able to relax a little bit helps a child verbalize more, and when you have that additional detail. Those little minute pieces that wouldn't have otherwise come out, it helps our case tremendously," said Perry.
"We’ll have longer and better convictions because the children are more relaxed during the interview process and they'll talk longer and disclose more because he's there with them," added Lori Banks, a victims’ advocate and Hayward’s handler.
Though he may act like an old pro, Hayward has only been at his job since August of 2012. He is also the first dog of his kind to work with children in an advocacy center in the state of Louisiana.
"He was the first one in the state to do this kind of work, and to see how the children and their families react. When they leave here the child actually brings the dog out of the interview room back to my office; and I mean it's just a big smile on their face and not like they've been talking about what awful things have happened to them," explained Banks.
Hayward has helped in dozens of cases already, and the staff is hoping he'll be able to work for at least another eight years.