Meet the dogs who help comfort victims in court

By Samantha Luiz
21 August 2015

The idea of testifying in front of your attacker can be a traumatic process, especially in countries where the defendants have the right to confront their accusers.

Testifying in front of your attacker can be a traumatic process, especially in countries where the defendants have the right to confront their accusers.

“When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place,” explained Ellen O’Neill Stephens, a retired prosecutor. “This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal. A lot of people come out damaged by it.” But the solution may lie in man’s best friend.

Ellen and veterinary doctor Celeste Walsen run Courthouse Dogs, an organisation that trains and provides dogs to comfort witnesses who have difficulty while testifying in court, whether it’s an “adult rape victim or family member whose child has been murdered”.

“[W]hen we’re in the presence of a relaxed dog, it makes us feel that we’re in a safe place,” pointed out Ellen.

“[This] can lower our blood pressure and reduce anxiety.” Ellen’s previous career made her realise how traumatic testifying can be for the witness. "I used to think, when I went into the courtroom, I was supposed to make the witnesses squirm, uncomfortable, so they'd somehow blurt out the truth," Ellen said. "But now I'm telling judges, that technique doesn't work."

Founded in 2004, Courthouse Dogs primarily uses Labradors or golden retrievers. The training process can take over two years. The non-profit organisation currently has 87 dogs working in 28 states.

Sources: boredpanda.com, metro.co.uk

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