Meet the Dogs that Are Heroes in the Courtroom

Unless you’re running for office, speaking in front of an audience is rarely a pleasure, especially when testifying against an accuser in a court of law. Thanks to a program called Courthouse Dogs, speaking in front of a jury will no longer be as stressful for some.

Founded in 2004, Courthouse Dogs is a nonprofit organization that employs 87 dogs in 28 states. Using mostly labradors and golden retrievers — trained for two years before being put out into the field — Courthouse Dogs has developed a solution that takes the stress out of dealing with uncomfortable legal confrontations and to help inexperienced speakers deal with their nerves. The organization states their vision on their website:

“We envision a world where there is a dog in every courthouse providing emotional support to everyone in need during stressful legal proceedings.”

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Ellen O’Neill Stephens, who handles the legal side of Courthouse Dogs, said in an interview with 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. A lot of people come out damaged by it.”

Testifying in front of an attacker is a nightmare, especially in a sexual abuse case, which research has shown amplifies greater trauma for the victim. Celeste Walsen, who handles the training aspect of Courthouse Dogs, told Upworthy:

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“We count on dogs to tell us when there’s a bad guy around.”

Knowing that a dog is in a relaxed state makes people feel that they are in a safe place, explained Walsen.

The dogs serve as comfort witnesses; because the victims feel a sense of companionship with the dogs, stress levels are drastically reduced, making the entire ordeal much more bearable.

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The 2015 International Courthouse Dogs Conference will take place early next month educating people about the program and demonstrating workshops with the dogs.

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