The Carson City Juvenile Detention Center’s new employee is quickly warming up to staff and youth. Even though she eats all the office treats and is a little bit of a hand-licker, everyone loves how friendly and cute she is. Tofi is a two-year-old Labrador from Hungary, serving as the first therapy dog for Juvenile Services. The sheriff’s office originally purchased her as a school district drug dog, but she was too mellow for the job. Luckily, all of Tofi’s qualities that make her an underperforming drug dog also make her an exemplary therapy animal. She’s made a splash in her first month of work. “She changes (the kids’) whole demeanor,” said Ali Banister, chief of Juvenile Services, in an interview with the Appeal. “It’s pretty rewarding to see what she can do … They’re a whole different kid when they’re interacting with the dog.” Banister adopted Tofi and brings her to work every day, but it’s Frank Mournighan, Juvenile Detention Center manager, who Tofi usually shadows on the job. “We’ve had a couple incidents where kids have come in, and they’ve been extremely scared because they haven’t been (to the detention center) before … It can be a pretty intimidating place. You know, coming into someplace you don’t know with handcuffs,” he said. “Once we see the juvenile is stable, we’ll bring Tofi into the picture… It’s just night and day what she does for the facility.”
“A lot of times, the attention gets drawn toward her. They’ll get into a story about, ‘my dog did this,’ ‘I did this with my dog.’ It just brings them mentally to a better place,” said Juvenile Detention Center Manager Frank Mournighan, talking about how Tofi interacts with youth at the detention center.
According to Mournighan, on any given day, the detention center usually holds between nine and 11 juvenile detainees. Their numbers dipped at the beginning of the pandemic, but they’ve risen back to their usual averages this year. Banister said that the decline was in part due to capacity constraints. The detention center can hold a maximum of 18 youth, but with COVID-19 restrictions, they made it a priority to only hold those who absolutely needed to be detained. Juvenile Services also saw a decline in juvenile crime at the height of the pandemic – or, at least, a decline in the number of juvenile criminals being caught. “I can’t believe how much (Tofi has) done for the facility,” Mournighan said. “Especially when our numbers go up. Normally, numbers go up, behavior goes down. Just that group mentality. Other than staff that are really dedicated, I really give her a lot of the kudos.” Mournighan and Banister both added that they often come across the misconception that the detention center is punishing the minors it holds. Per federal and state laws, the detention center must be constructed and run to feel as home-like as possible. Common areas outside the cell blocks look like a student dormitory, with space to read, watch movies, play tabletop games, and workout. Having Tofi around helps foster that homey environment. “Kids love it when they’re working on the computer and the dog comes up and leans her head against your leg like that,” Mournighan said, gesturing to how Tofi leaned her head against an Appeal reporter’s thigh during the interview. “They give her a quick pet and she moves on.” Banister is looking forward to next summer when the detention center runs its 10-week wilderness program. Detainees will participate in physical fitness, backpacking, and hiking activities, and for the first time they’ll get to bring Tofi along with them.