NEW BRAUNFELS — Ashlynn Martz, 15, is no stranger to the anxiety young victims can face when they are forced to confront people who victimized them.
So, when she saw a chance to lessen the strain some of those children in Comal County will feel in the future, Ashlynn took action.
“I was a victim of a predator,” the precocious high school sophomore said in New Braunfels. “I survived and came out with great grades and great everything.”
Ashlynn said she wants to help ensure other kids they can survive too.
So the Canyon Lake High School student and her family offered the services of their dog Diesel, and the Comal County criminal district attorney accepted. Diesel is a 1-year-old Belgian Malinois, and Ashlynn will be his main handler in the courthouse.
“She contacted Jennifer Tharp and said, ‘Would you be interested in having a therapy dog to work with children,’” Leslee Martz said of her daughter.
On Thursday, Tharp presented Diesel to county commissioners, who approved a contract with Ashlynn’s family for the dog’s services. Tharp said Diesel will provide emotional support to children faced with testifying in court.
“Diesel is going to help children victims whenever they come to the courthouse,” the DA said. “After they come to the courthouse and have to wait until they come in the courtroom, he will be there to calm them.”
She said not every young victim or child asked to testify will receive Diesel’s services. Decisions to incorporate Diesel into the process will be made on a case-by-case basis, Tharp said.
Trendy Sharp, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Comal County, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to abused children in the county. Sharp said Diesel’s association with Tharp’s office could mean a world of difference.
“The district attorney’s office made a great decision for children in bringing Diesel on as an honorary member of the DA’s office,” Sharp said. “The dog will be able to make children who testify feel more comfortable. And they’ll always know they have a friend in the courthouse right next to them.”
Often times, young people find it difficult to testify or do anything surrounding court cases, Sharp said. Having a furry friend around to help calm their nerves could help immensely, she said.
“Sometimes children walk into an adult world terrified, and they need a friendly face,” Sharp said.
Diesel is certified to perform the work the DA’s office would request, said Stacy Dufur, victim assistance coordinator in Tharp’s office. She said he likely will be available the next time he’s needed.
Dufur, who works with children and other victims and witnesses involved in criminal trials, remembered at least one occasion when Diesel’s services might have helped calm a nervous witness. She said the dog might have been able to comfort the girl in ways humans couldn’t.