Prosecuting Attorney Ellen O’Neill-Stephens began a program in 2003 to include service dogs in the courtroom process and in the investigation of child abuse cases. In 2012, Courthouse Dogs Foundation became an official nonprofit organization. Courthouse dogs go through the same training processes as other assistance dogs, and are always handled by working criminal justice professionals. These dogs are different from “therapy dogs” because they do not specialize in helping people with disabilities, and they do not have public access.
There are a number of challenges for courthouse dogs. Besides resistance from the court itself to allow a dog in the room during proceedings, other people who are exposed to a courthouse dog may have allergies or fear of dogs. Courthouse dogs should be kept clean, and their handlers can even carry special wipes to clean them regularly, in order to reduce the risk of spreading allergens. Courthouse dogs are also trained not to lick people, as dog saliva carries the most allergy irritants. To address the issue of fear of dogs, there should be a sticker or small sign displayed at the entrance to a courthouse which warns that there is a service dog on the premises, and courthouse dog training will help train the dog not to appear aggressive to anyone.
The CASA program is very involved with the Courthouse Dogs Foundation. Many different CASA locations have received courthouse dogs which they use to comfort child victims of sexual abuse as well as to be present for a number of proceedings in order to reduce stress for everyone involved. As CASA and Courthouse Dogs continue to work together, service dogs are incorporated into a variety of programs for high-risk youth around the country.
Do you think this could be a helpful program for the abused children in our community? Or do you think that dogs should not be allowed in the courtroom and a different method of stress-relief for children would be better? Leave a comment below and make sure to check out the Courthouse Dogs Foundation page on facebook!