Children’s Trust Introduces Mayor to “Courthouse Dog”

Advocacy Group Hopes to Have Program in Place Soon

A "courthouse dog" brings comfort to a child getting ready to testify.
A “courthouse dog” brings comfort to a child getting ready to testify.

A courthouse facility dog will be joining the Children’s Trust staff to assist children and their families during the investigation and prosecution of crimes.

Facility dogs are specially bred and trained graduates of accredited assistance dog organizations. These dogs have similar training as a service dog but are handled by a professional to assist many clients.

Courthouse facility dogs are specially selected to work in a high stress environment because of their very composed demeanor and confidence. Scientific research shows that a relaxed dog reduces stress in humans. Courthouse dogs are primarily used to provide a sense of calm to anxious witnesses and victims during the investigation and prosecution of crimes. They also facilitate the fact finding process because a calm witness is better able to describe a traumatic event to a judge or jury.

Currently there are 60 courthouse facility dogs working in 23 states. Children’s Trust has applied and been approved through St. Francis and will also apply through Canine Companions for Independence. The group is hoping to have a dog placed with their agency in the coming year.

Courthouse Dogs Foundation founder Ellen O’Neill-Stephens, a retired senior deputy prosecuting attorney, and Executive Director Celeste Walsen DVM are coming from Washington State to educate judges, attorneys, victim advocates, law enforcement, forensic nurses, mental health and the public about how these specially trained facility dogs are being used to help victims and witnesses within the criminal justice system.

Children’s Trust presented the program to Roanoke City Mayor David Bowers and Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill on April 16th at the Mayor’s office.

For more information about how these wonderful dogs make the criminal justice system more humane visit www.courthousedogs.org .