So, what is a dog in a courtroom all about? For some of the children who come to Small Talk for a forensic interview, court may become a part of their lives. Most children have never seen the inside of a courtroom, let alone testified in one. Testifying can be a stressful and scary experience, especially for a child. Having a dog, such as Preston, available to go through the court process with a child is an added layer of support.
One morning, a young girl was waiting to testify at the courthouse. As soon as she saw Preston enter the room, her face lit up. There was an unusually long wait that day and the young girl spent the entirety of that time by Preston's side, playing with and petting him. When it was time for her to testify, she became nervous and began to cry. The young girl was reminded that Preston would be there with her every step of the way and she bravely entered the courtroom. She answered the questions asked of her and every so often reached down to pet Preston. Before leaving the courthouse that day, the young girl got her picture taken with Preston and they parted ways with the agreement that Preston would see her at the next court date.
On another day, Preston had been requested for a meeting with a young woman who was preparing to testify. While discussing the case, the young woman became visibly upset and began to cry. Preston immediately sprang up and walked over to where she was sitting. He continued to nudge her hand with his nose until she began to pet him. The young woman spent time petting him and when she had stopped crying, Preston laid at her feet. At the end of the meeting, all who were present marveled at Preston’s innate understanding of the young woman’s need for comfort in that moment that she had started to cry.
The use of canine advocates in court is becoming increasingly common in cases involving child abuse. Either the county prosecutor’s office or the local Children’s Advocacy Center may have a canine advocate available. If not, a canine advocate from another county can sometimes be requested. From there, it is important for the prosecuting attorney to gain permission from the judge to have the dog present in the courtroom. The judges of Ingham County, who we are lucky enough to work with at Small Talk, have been nothing short of supportive of the needs of the children involved in these cases.
Once in the courtroom, the canine advocate’s job is to lay quietly at the child’s feet as they are testifying on the witness stand. The canine advocate provides comfort and emotional support, as well as an increased sense of safety and security. Imagine the difference between being on the stand alone and being up there with a calm, cuddly dog. It’s easy to see the world of difference that can make for a child or teen sharing about a traumatic experience.
To learn more about canine advocates in Michigan, click here
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