Service dogs help ease the pain of testifying in court

By Kate Hassett

Service dogs help ease the pain of testifying in court
Testifying in court can be more traumatising than people realise. These service dogs are helping victims through the harrowing ordeal.

Research has shown that in a large amount of cases, especially those involving sexual abuse, the process of testifying in front of your attacker can amplify trauma for young victims. Regardless of this, most victims have no choice but to face the perpetrators head on.

This harrowing ordeal is often met with hesitation and anxiety by those involved.

Ellen, a retired prosecutor and Celeste, a veterinary doctor, run the company Courthouse DogsAfter seeing the enormously emotional effect, giving testimony had on already traumatised victims, they began looking at a way to ensure the perpetrator was punished and the victim felt at ease during the process.

Everybody knows the incredible benefits pet ownership can provide, but little realise just how helpful dogs and other responsive animals can be, to people suffering with anxiety and other mental health issues.

Ellen told Upworthy, “When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place.”

“This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal,” she added. “A lot of people come out damaged by it.”

The dogs, that undergo years of service training, can provide a calming and supportive presence to those who need it most.

The difference between being a courtroom dog and therapy dog, is the incredible amount of ‘trauma resistant’ training they go through.

From a very young age, the dogs are exposed to small amounts of stress – like putting them onto a cold metal surface then removing them instantly whilst soothing them. This acts to ensure that by the time they are ready for the courtroom, they are immune to the high levels of emotion, chaos and confusion that can occur.

Image: Courthouse Dogs
Image: Courthouse Dogs

This kind of therapy requires at least two years of hands on training before the dogs are ready to take the stand.

The goal of ‘courthouse dogs’ is not just to sooth the anxiety felt by the victims, but to help prosecutors get valid evidence from guilty parties as well.

“I used to think, when I went into the courtroom, I was supposed to make the witnesses squirm, uncomfortable, so they’d somehow blurt out the truth,” Ellen said. “But now I’m telling judges, that technique doesn’t work.”

Ellen has seen the incredible results from having dogs everywhere from the courthouse to the interrogation room.

“I think it’s revolutionising this process,” Ellen said. “I’m fairly confident this practice is here to stay and it will only grow.”

Have you ever had a traumatic experience that could have benefited from the presence of these service dogs?

 

 

 

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