Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dogs in Court

Russell rested his head on nine-year-old Mark's lap. After a while, Mark leaned over and confided to the dog, "Russell, this is really hard." Russell nuzzled him. By the time the interviewer returned to the room, Mark was finally able to tell the details of the physical abuse he had suffered, with Russell sitting quietly next to him during the entire interview.
Courthouse dog will comfort kids as they go through a stressful time
Russell and Friend, Tucson Arizona
Russell is a Court House Dog, trained to help and comfort people, mainly children, who must relive the horrific details of abuse and sexual molestation as they testify against their attackers in court.

California law provides that a child witness may have a dog with him or her on the witness stand.
She has the right to his comfort and support
Dory, a San Diego Court House Dog is one of a growing number of dogs who now work in 19 states, as well as Canada and Chile.
Dory and San Diego Police Officer Lynn Chavez. Dory is a service dog who helps kids in the county courthouse get through tough days.
Dory with San Diego Police office Lynn Chavez
In 2010, Dory and her handler, San Diego Police Officer Lynn Chavez were named as "Citizens of Courage," by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Dory is the first dog ever to receive the honor. Ninety-nine percent of Dory's work is with abused or molested children.

The requirements for the dogs are stringent. They must be quiet and self confident, highly social, and able to work with people whose behavior may be erratic and unpredictable. They must be outgoing and sociable with the public, but almost invisible when court is in session. They must remain calm, no matter what happens.

Although the dogs are legally neutral, some defense attorneys don't like them. In the summer of 2011, New York attorney Steven Levine appealed his client's conviction for raping his daughter because having a dog present reduced the plaintiff's level of stress, thereby increasing the likelihood that she lied, and depriving the accused father of a fair trial. The decision is still pending.

Meanwhile, more and more municipalities are deciding that a Court House Dog would be an asset to their judicial systems. My bet is that within a few years, every state will use them, and it won't be an issue for anyone.