The Courthouse Dogs
by Amy Lignor
Recently, in a small newspaper serving quite an infamous town (one where a UFO landing put them on the map), a story was written about the town being in danger of losing its courthouse dog program.
For those who are unaware, a very large, helpful – not to mention, trustworthy and loyal part of the justice system is in danger. They have helped people since 1989: From dealing with victims who
need a special friend in order to get them through a court case; to aiding members of the legal system, from prosecutor all the way up to judge, canines have assisted far more than just the police force in the U.S. of A. And, although they’ve received many commendations for their work on both police and fire department forces, there is far more these special canines have to give.
It was back in 1989 that a retired Seeing-Eye dog by the name of Sheba was brought into the Special Victims Bureau of Queens, NY, to help child sexual/physical abuse victims in the District Attorney’s Office.
A German shepherd by the name of Vachess, took his own place in the courtroom a year later, sitting at the feet of a 5-year-old girl who needed the K9’s help during a preliminary hearing in Rankin County, MS.
One of the most famous, a golden Lab named Jeeter, worked as a service dog and aided twin sisters while they had to go through the pain of competency hearings and trial testimony. After all of this good work, the practice of bringing in assistance dogs in order to bring emotional support to everyone in the courtroom became law.
Canine Companions for Independence placed one of their facility’s dogs, Ellie, into a prosecutor’s office in Seattle, and soon the creation of Courthouse Dogs LLC came to the forefront of the news. And ever since, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, where canines were found in the courtrooms, life for one and all became a whole lot better to deal with.
This is not just some “good works” or “Helping Hands” club, so to speak. These dogs do a great deal of work. They go through 2 years of training, learning and graduating various programs to become accredited by Assistance Dogs International before going on to become facility dogs. And when it comes to the courthouse dogs, their handlers are actually professionals already working in the legal field (i.e., assistant prosecutors, forensic interviewers, victim advocates.) When asking any town or state about their courthouse dogs program, you will find that they are necessary; the dogs help 100% by keeping emotions calm, and victims cared for during some of the worst moments of their lives.
Unlike a service dog, the facility dog is not trained to assist those with disabilities, nor do they have public access. But where kindness and love is needed the most, from the courts to special education classrooms, a facility dog can be found.
One of the best slogans (and one of the most honest) is stated by the Courthouse Dogs Foundation when they say that their program, “trains the people, not the dogs.” Why is this? Because the canine temperament is already there. Their ability to love, respect, protect and care for others in harmful or harrowing situations is something they are literally born with, and they are just looking for someone to share their love and friendship with. And when it comes to the children, those that find themselves caught in horrible situations that have made them victims, the courthouse facility dogs are one of the best resources in the world to gift these children with a type of support some of them have never even seen before.
It is not out of line to say that compassion seems to have become an afterthought in this world, so the work of these dogs is something that must be kept, through donations and care, for a good, long time to come. Courthouse dogs are being pulled in some areas due to funding issues, yet the need for these canines is bigger than ever before.
By keeping these wonderful creatures by the sides of the people who really need them, the legal/justice system will be able to serve far better than they ever could without them.
For more information go to: www.courthousedogs.com
Source: Baret News