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Dogs Help Crime Victims in Courtrooms

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:

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:

Image Credit: Habj

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11:23AM PST on Nov 10, 2013

Dogs are Wonderful :) Thanks for Sharing.

2:35AM PST on Dec 26, 2012

This is the miracle of our furry friends; it's undeniable

12:28PM PDT on May 12, 2012

I am always in favor of any program utilizing the amazing abilities of dogs-there are so many wonderful ways for this symbiotic relationship to work. I have always questioned the use of purebred dogs in so many of these programs and why there are so expensive. I know it takes time, effort and expense-to train and foster puppies, then to work with the dogs when older before matching them them to their human, but $40,000? And why can't shelter dogs be used as a resource. There is one program that trains shelter dogs for soldiers with PTSD successfully, but it is one of few. An untapped resource that would be win-win.

5:13AM PDT on May 12, 2012

Happy tears!

5:13AM PDT on May 12, 2012

Happy tears!

8:29AM PST on Feb 28, 2012

This is a fantastic idea. Maybe shelter dogs can be trained. That would help shelter population also.

1:21AM PST on Feb 26, 2012


1:29PM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

Great article.
Thank you

5:10AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

Thanks for the article.

10:00AM PST on Feb 21, 2011

Dogs are fantastic in every sense. Court house dogs, rescue dogs, helping disabled, sniffing mines, gas leaks, mushroom mold, drugs, weapons, calming children in a stressful situation or in a nursing home. I'd rather have a dog by my side anytime than anyone else! Thanks for sharing this story!

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