Man’s Best Friend: meet the hero courthouse dogs who provide comfort and calm during victim testimony

Testifying in court can be a daunting process sometimes involving confronting an attacker and going over a traumatic experience in a roomful of people that you don’t know.

But a new US-based movement providing dogs is here to help.

Research shows that giving evidence in court can actually increase feelings of trauma – especially among young sexual abuse victims. 

Could the answer be man’s best friend?

Retired prosecutor Ellen O'Neill Stephens and veterinary doctor Celeste Walsen, from Washington, believe so. 

The pair run Courthouse Dogs, an organisation promoting the benefits of a dog’s company while testifying – saying that it does help promote feelings of calmness.

Courthouse dogs

Photo posed by models (Image: Courthouse Dogs)

The pair have some excellent evidence behind why we need them in court.

Ellen told Upworthy

“When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place.

“It is brutal and a lot of people come out damaged by it.” 

The dogs provide a calming presence, whether they're curled up on the couch with a child as he or she gets interviewed by a prosecutor or sleeping peacefully at the feet of a witness in the witness box, Celeste says.

Because of the longstanding relationship between humans and dogs, “we count on dogs to tell us when there's a bad guy around.”

So when we're in the presence of a relaxed dog, it makes us feel that we're in a safe place, which can lower our blood pressure and reduce anxiety, she adds.

Courthouse Dogs

Photo posed by models (Image: Courthouse Dogs)

Earlier this year a police dog in Canada was allowed into the court room during a trial, so that it could comfort the victim of child abuse.

The girl was taking the stand to give her testimony and Caber, a seven-year-old Labrador, was permitted to sit beside her so she could get through the ordeal. She reportedly kept a firm hold on his leash throughout proceedings.

Although the practice is allowed widely in the US, it is yet to become something that's adopted over here. 

UK barrister Paula Rhone-Adrien tells that she's yet to see a dog in court in her 17-year career.

“Of course we allow the visually impaired or blind to have a dog but there wouldn't be a dog in court simply to assist a victim in staying calm," she says. "But, we are always about 10 years behind America so this could be something we see in the future!” 

These are no ordinary dogs. They undergo years of training, and only the best of the best ever make it to the big show. To hear what makes the ideal courthouse dog check out the video below: 

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