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DA’s office shows off a four-legged tool against school truancy. Meet Dinah

It's the latest tool in the fight against truancy and absenteeism in our local schools and a new four-legged partner is helping some local kids receive the emotional support they might need to stay on track.

Dinah is a 2 1/2-year-old standard poodle who is now assigned to the Riverside County District Attorney's Crime Prevention Unit.

Lauren Valles is Dinah's handler. Valles is a Victim Services Supervisor and said, "Oh, people's faces light up as soon as they see the dog, they get so excited."

Photo courtesy: Riverside County District Attorneys Office

Dinah has been on the job for about five months now and now visits schools and other public events serving as kind of a fluffy stress reducer for anyone who needs it, but with a serious purpose now for children who witness or experience violence at home.

"So we found that most of the kids that are experiencing issues with getting to school, they're having some home life issues," said Valles adding, "and so a lot of them are experiencing violence in the home, specifically domestic violence."

Toxic stress can lead students to truancy and absenteeism. It is a serious concern in local schools.

More than a third of Desert Sands Unified School District students were chronically absent last year, according to the California School Dashboard.

That number jumped to nearly 39 percent for Palm Springs Unified School District and was at 42 percent for Coachella Valley Unified students in 2023.

Dinah and her handler, Valles, are traveling to schools across the county and providing support and outreach education services for children dealing with chronic absenteeism, truancy, behavioral issues, and more. 

Photo courtesy: Riverside County District Attorneys Office

"Kids are so excited to see her they ask so many questions about her, and how they can have a job like mine where they get to have a dog," said Valles.

Valles says this is a passion project for District Attorney Mike Hestrin. The idea is to break through barriers and help children stay in school.

"I'm just really excited for the work that our unit is doing," Valles said.

She says it helps kids engage in positive decision-making while building confidence and helping them avoid engaging in delinquent behavior.

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Jeff Stahl

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