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Tag: courthouse dogs

Dog assists prosecutors in Marin County

Vivian, a 2-year-old retriever, has joined the district attorney’s office in Marin County, working as a service aide for traumatized crime victims and witnesses, especially children.

According to Marin prosecutors, Vivian is the first service dog to work for a California district attorney’s office.

Vivian is present while the victims are being interviewed, and she recently made her courtroom debut by sitting in  the witness box with a 4-year-old alleged domestic violence victim from Novato, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

“When he left, he gave Vivian a big hug and said he wanted to come back and visit her,” said Deputy District Attorney Andrea Buccine, who is the dog’s guardian and spearheaded the effort to bring her into the office.

She and District Attorney Ed Berberian started the program after learning of a similar one in the Seattle area.

The Seattle dogs were provided by a  nonprofit called Canine Companions for Independence, located in Santa Rosa, California. The organization breeds, raises and trains therapy dogs to help the disabled, and to work in hospitals, courthouses, schools and other venues.

“It just makes a very nice approach with these young kids,” Berberian said. “It puts them at ease, and helps these interviews go a little easier. It’s just a way to make very undesirable and unnatural situations more bearable for some of these victims.”

At least one defense attorney has problems with the program. Bonnie Marmor, a deputy public defender for the county, said the use of dogs by prosecutors could, like offering them candy or toys, sway their testimony.

And nothing but the truth, so help me dog

courthousedogsDogs aren’t just permitted in Washington state’s King County Courthouse, they work there — serving to calm the nerves of  intimidated witnesses and make their testimony flow more freely.

In addition to serving as companions for traumatized victims of child abuse who are testifying in court, the dogs are used for a variety of other courthouse purposes, according to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News.

According to the Courthouse Dogs website, dogs have been helping seek justice in Seattle since 2003.

The dogs provide comfort to sexually abused children while they undergo forensic interviews and testify in court, assist drug court participants in their recovery, visit juveniles in detention facilities, greet jurors and in general lift the spirits of courthouse staff.

Ellen O’Neill-Stephens, a prosecutor in Seattle, launched Courthouse Dogs in 2003 after using a service dog – Jeeter – for her son who has cerebral palsy.

She was in Dallas this week to make a presentation on the progam to the 21st annual Crimes Against Children Conference, sponsored by the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center and the Dallas Police Department.

“Sometimes, these children will say things to the dog that they’re too embarrassed to say to a person,” Stephens said. “We had a girl who had been severely abused and she could never talk about it. But she petted Jeeter for over 90 minutes straight and she was able to tell what happened.”

Stephens said the courthouse dogs are usually golden or Labrador retrievers who go through an intensive training regimen. Only about 30 percent of the dogs that start out actually make it, she said.

She said she believes that the highly skilled canines can often be the difference in a conviction or not guilty verdict in child abuse cases.

“These children are suffering acute emotional trauma,” she said. “These dogs can help them get through that.”

(Photo courtesy of www.courthousedogs.org)