It sounds like something dreamed up by a television producer in the 1950s: Valor, the Tiny Sheriff Horse. Along with her trainer, Victoria Netanel, and the other miniature therapy horses in Netanel's care, Valor is an official volunteer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, on call at all times to help with official police work.
Still not a year old, Valor has been trained since birth to be calm in all situations, not to react to loud noises or to being unexpectedly touched by small hands. She's trained to go to the bathroom on command — and never indoors — to get on and off elevators, and to be mindful of medical equipment so she can work in hospitals.
Much of Valor's work is at the Westwood VA, where she visits the psychiatric lockdown ward, oncology department and intensive care unit, providing small-horse comfort to veterans. They speak to Valor, and tell her things they wouldn't tell their therapists. It's hard not to trust such a sweet face.
It would be easy to see Valor as a fuzzy mascot, a cute gimmick for the Sheriff's Department to use in order to get some sweet PR. But Lt. Jennifer Seetoo originally came up with the idea of partnering with trainer Netanel and her herd of miniature horses at Gentle Carousel Mini Therapy Horses because she knew that kids and cops have a serious communication problem.
"The first time a child comes into contact with a police officer, it's almost never good," Seetoo says. "Even if we're there to help, that means some kind of trauma has occurred. More often than not, we're giving their parents a traffic ticket or, worse, arresting a parent. Kids have no reason to associate us with anything good. There aren't even any good-cop TV shows appropriate for kids these days."
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Valor and her compatriots are meant to help with that. They accompany Sheriff's officers to events at libraries and schools in order to soften the officers' image. In other words: sweet PR.
But there's a far more sobering need as well. "Oftentimes, we at the Sheriff's Department are the ones removing a child from their home, if there's been an accusation of abuse, or drug use, or if a parent has been arrested," Seetoo says. The children might spend hours at the Sheriff's facility, a police station not set up to accommodate kids. "It can take a while for a relative or Family Services to get to us, especially in the middle of the night, when many of these situations arise."
That's where Valor's real work begins, whether helping troubled or critically ill vets or vulnerable children. Netanel and her horses are on call, and will come to the Sheriff's station at any time of the day or night in order to play with and comfort a kid who is likely scared and alone and might not be willing to talk to an officer. Not many people, big or small, can resist a friendly, fluffy, tiny horse.