Specially trained dogs are being used in some courtrooms because their presence is calming for children who have been sexually abused or physically abused. Children who are supposed to testify in legal cases about their abuse sometimes are very reluctant, or refuse to speak to an adult, but will tell their side of the story to a dog that is present.
The idea to use dogs in the courtroom to assist victims in criminal trials came about when a lawyer (Ellen O’Neill-Stephens) took a service dog to work for no specific purpose, but noticed the dog had a calming effect on witnesses.
O’Neill-Stephens said, “There have been many cases where the presence of the dog with the child in the courtroom can make the difference between a guilty verdict or an acquittal.” (Source: HawaiiNews)
After two labradors were used in the Seattle area for their calming presence, the practice spread to Texas, Michigan, California, Florida and Hawaii.
District Attorney Donna Hawkins from Texas said, “The dogs are meeting with children who have witnessed domestic violence. And it’s just amazing to see the smile on their faces and how much less stress they have after playing with the dogs.” (Source: USAToday)
In Honolulu the first courthouse dog will begin working soon. Prosecutor Scott Spallina said, “A dog can make a particularly stressful situation less so. Anything that anybody can do — whether it’s prosecutors or defense attorneys — to make court less stressful, especially for special victims, we’re all in favor of that.” (Source: Staradvertiser.com)
In the courtroom the dogs are handled only by those trained in how to work with them. Training dogs for this special work requires years of instruction, and costs over $40,000.
Courthouse Dogs founder Ellen O’Neill-Stephens traveled to Hawaii to help them establish their own courthouse dogs program. Court Appointed Special Advocates will be using their first courthouse dog soon. They typically work with children and youth who need representation in legal cases due to parental neglect or abuse. (Source: Newschief.com)
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