Courthouse dogs on duty to calm witnesses

Courthouse dogs on duty to calm witnesses

ABINGDON, Va. - You get home after a difficult, stressful day, and if you're lucky, the first person to greet you is not a person at all -- it's your faithful dog. A couple of pats on the head and it seems like that bad day wasn't so bad after all.

That's the simple idea behind courthouse dogs, dogs trained and used to comfort witnesses or victims as they give their testimony of a traumatic situation.

The Children's Advocacy Center of Bristol and Washington County will be using one of those dogs soon. We visited a training session for those in the court system about the use of such dogs.

Molly B. is hard at work. It may look like she's just laying around a courtroom and taking it easy, but she's hard at work; she's a courthouse dog.

The founder of the Courthouse Dogs Foundation spoke to those who might come in contact with such working dogs as they hear cases.

The Children's Advocacy Center for Bristol and Washington County will soon be using a dog like Molly B. to help support and comfort a child sexual abuse victim as they undergo interviews and testify in court. "My partner Ellen started using a dog in 2003, but by 2008 it was eveident that everybody around the country had questions about the right way to do this. So now we've been doing this for six years, training all around the United States," Courthouse Dogs executive director Celeste Walsen says.

Donna Callis will be the dog handler for the advocacy center. She will soon undergo intensive training with the new dog. "What I'll be doing is learning commands for the dog. The dog already knows the commands, but I have to learn how to give the commands to the dog in the proper way," Donna said.

"These dogs should be available to any vunerable witness that would have difficulty talking about what happened. So that could be an adult rape victim or family member who's child has been murdered and have to testify in court," said Ellen O'Neill-Stephens, founder of Courthouse Dogs.

As for Molly B., if you remove her working vest, she's all dog and all play. But deep in her eyes you can tell she knows the importance of her job.

For more information about Courthouse Dogs please click here. 

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