Pitt County sheriff swears in two new deputies to help trauma victims

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PITT COUNTY, NC (WITN) - A pair of four-legged friends are now sworn deputies in one Eastern Carolina county.

Miniature therapy horses Sammy and Gunner are now Deputies Sammy and Gunner of the Pitt County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Neil Elks swore the two in at the courthouse Thursday afternoon.

The two horses' full-time jobs are serving in the Rocking Horse Ranch therapy program.

Sheriff Elks says his newest deputies will be helping victims and witnesses of traumatic events.

"The sky is the limit really and where you want to go with it, and how much participation we're going to get," he says. "And we've already had a lot of feedback from other agencies that they want to learn more about it."

Deputies Sammy and Gunner will stay full time at the ranch and assist the sheriff's office by appointment.


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Two new deputy sheriffs will start working for the Pitt County sheriff this week, but these new guys are not going to fit in the normal uniform.

These new deputies are also going to have longer hair, different shoes and will be much shorter than their colleagues.

Even their office will be different. They will be working at Rocking Horse Ranch helping start a new program at the department to help trauma victims, once they are sworn in by the sheriff's department this Thursday.

"This is to me a little sanctuary and our horses are what make it very safe and very special," says Malaika Albrecht, the executive director of the ranch.

Sammy and Gunner are two miniature horses who will help build trust between trauma victims and the sheriff's department.

Albrecht says the trauma victims will come to the ranch to walk around the miniature horses and also to brush them down.

"There are not a lot of programs out here for people who have been witnesses to trauma, especially a program as novel as this where they are getting out of Greenville, out of the city," Albrecht says.

Scheryl Meola works with the horses everyday and she says she can see how they can change someone's life. "It's like it's magic. I know it is scientific and we are going to end up proving it, but it is also magic."

Dr. Leigh Atherton is a professor at ECU. He says the university plans to study this program to see how Sammy and Gunner will help the rehabilitation process for trauma victims.

"The great thing about working with miniature horses is that it is kind of ground breaking," Dr. Atherton says. "There is not that much research looking at mini horses and their use in a therapeutic way, especially in the way that we are looking at using it for this project."

Program organizers say this program will be free for trauma victims. Sheriff Neil Elks will refer the victims to Rocking Horse Ranch so they can spend time and recover with Sammy and Gunner.

You can see the new deputies be sworn in this Thursday at 1 p.m. in the Pitt County court house.