Regardless of age, trauma or desire, victims of crime are routinely put through the rigors of court trials that can leave even the most seasoned professional witnesses rattled at times. It is with this knowledge that the Courthouse Dogs Foundation came about. The program, founded by Ellen O’Neill-Stephens, has helped change the landscape for those ill equipped to handle the most stressful stages of the legal process by introducing them to friendly, furry companions that are there to help them in their time of need.
Courthouse Facility Dogs
The dogs in the program are professionally trained and work across the country in prosecutor’s offices, child advocacy centers and in family court — hands down one of the most stressful courts in our entire judicial system. While the animals’ main purpose is to provide a calming influence for children during proceedings, these “neutral companions” aid the most vulnerable of witnesses, often times making it possible for them to relate details they might otherwise be unable to repeat.
“In the United states children as young as four years of age are expected to go into court and face the defenders while they testify in court and have little or no accommodations for them to deal with this. When they have a dog present they are better able to describe what happened and feel less traumatized by it,” says O’Neill-Stephens. Providing emotional support is the gift these dogs bring to the people they encounter. Without them, the ordeal would be even worse.
Staunton, VA, Court System
On Monday, April 17, 2017, the courthouse in Staunton, Virginia, was blessed with the appearance of Molly, a Lab mix and official courthouse dog. The purpose of her visit was to act as an emissary or ambassador for the facility dog that will soon grace Staunton’s courthouse halls regularly. That’s right, Staunton will be getting their very own dog, and the tour Molly was led on has helped pave the way to a better understanding of how the dogs and the program works for everyone involved.
The Cost of Training Service Dogs
Service dogs come in many different shapes, sizes and breeds. The one thing they do have in common, beyond the fact that they have been trained to be of service in one form or another, is the exorbitant cost associated with their special training. For instance, Molly and other dogs like her can cost up to $50,000 to train. That’s a lot of biscuits! Fortunately for Staunton, Canine Companions for Independence has absorbed the costs for the dog they’ll soon be receiving, otherwise they probably couldn’t afford him or her.
Starting a Courthouse Facility Dogs Program
For anyone reading this that works in the justice system or that may be considered an officer of the court — just about anyone that works within the system — a Courthouse Facility Dogs program can be started in your area. Nationwide the program has been recognized for its worthiness and the contributions it has made in cities across America. Just go to courthousedogs.org and scroll down until you see the box for contacting them regarding a free consultation. By doing so you may help ease the pain of an innocent victim.