How Therapy dogs in court are helping kids testify against their abusers?

therapy dogs in court
Therapy dogs in court: A frightened little girl who had been sexually abused was brought to a center to tell the forensic interviewer what happened to her. When the officer left the room for a moment to speak with detectives, she hugged Petra and said, “I love you, Petra. You really are a good dog. I’ve told you more than I’ve ever told anybody. I hope when you die, you go to heaven.”

From comforting the jarred victims of violence to calming nerves of airborne passengers; dogs ―  the heroes we need but don’t deserve, come waltzing through to instil hope in a world so often devoid of it. We’ve seen dogs save the day – from fighting terrorists to saving sinking souls… now add to it, their avatar as ‘therapy dogs in courts’, to help the traumatized kids.

Dogs do it all sans a cape!

Appearing in court can be a stressful experience, where the victim must relive traumatic events. It is even worrisome when the victim is a child. Presence of a dog in the court signals to the kids that they are in a safe place. This reduces their anxiety and empowers them to calmly testify. Even adults can get anxious in a courtroom setting – Police and prosecutors interviewing about the smallest of details, making you relive the traumatic experience all over again. Not to forget the eventual testifying against the perpetrator in court.

Now imagine, all of this, from a child’s perspective.

Therapy dogs in court

Child abuse victims are frightened to testify about their experience in a courtroom. Of late, many U.S. courts are allowing therapy dogs to accompany the kids — these professionally trained dogs have the same degree of training as a guide dog for the blind or a service dog. They calm the children during stressful legal proceedings so that the latter may describe what happened.

“Courthouse facility dogs” are common in America, Canada, and Chile, where they help children in all legal settings, as well as crime victims and witnesses. In the UK, Chelmsford county court hosts therapy dogs each week, to reduce stress and make court less intimidating.

These dogs also provide emotional support to participants in family court proceedings.

therapy court dog
The courtroom dogs offer a supportive presence that helps victims and witnesses tell a jury what happened.

A dog’s calming presence can make a great difference in the court especially when it comes to children testifying against an abuser. Petting a dog can relieve stress and lower heart rate and blood pressure.

dog helps kids in court
Ivy Jacobsen with a facility comfort dog. Court therapy dogs helped her get through the trials before her father was convicted of assaulting her.

Dogs indeed represent all things bright and beautiful for these children as Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer quips, “Instead of focusing on the trauma they have experienced, the memory many children have about the court is spending time with the dog.”

Taking a cue from the US, a study was done in the UK regarding the use of therapy dogs to support court users in the waiting rooms – Results suggest that therapy dogs have a number of benefits to court users. Long-term, the human-canine interaction positively translates into the court waiting room environment, and so it should be further explored, evaluated, and then appropriately implemented in the UK’s legal system.

Thank you doggo!

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