Public speaking is stressful, and testifying in court can be particularly so. In countries where defendants have the right to confront their accusers, witnesses, especially young ones, often struggle under the pressure. Ellen O’Neill Stephens and Celeste Walsen, of Courthouse Dogs, believe they have the solution: dogs in the courtroom to comfort witnesses.
“When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place,” O’Neill told Upworthy. “This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal. A lot of people come out damaged by it.”
Courthouse dogs are trained specifically for the job, a process that can take over two years. Courthouse Dogs was founded in 2004, and presently employs 87 dogs working in 28 states. The non-profit primarily uses Labradors or golden retrievers.
Testifying in court can be a traumatic event
Courthouse Dogs strives to make this ordeal bearable
“When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place”
“These dogs should be available to any vulnerable witness that would have difficulty talking about what happened”
“That could be an adult rape victim or family member who’s child has been murdered and have to testify in court”
“This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal”
“We count on dogs to tell us when there’s a bad guy around”
“[W]hen we’re in the presence of a relaxed dog, it makes us feel that we’re in a safe place”
“[This] can lower our blood pressure and reduce anxiety”
“I used to think… I was supposed to make the witnesses squirm”
“But now I’m telling judges, that technique doesn’t work”
Dogs can provide emotional support for everyone involved in the criminal justice system. Facility dogs from Canine Companions for Independence are at work in King County, WA.