Centre County, Pennsylvania has developed a program that uses a highly trained dog to provide emotional support for children in the County's criminal justice system. The program was developed by Judge Brad Lunsford and Faith Burger and is reported to be the first program of its kind in Pennsylvania. The Centre County District Attorney says that its dog "Princess" "...specializes in comforting and easing the fears of the children of our community who have been victimized and who are required to come into the courtroom setting to testify." Princess joined the Centre County District Attorney's office on December 30, 2009.
The program is not limited to Pennsylvania. There are a large number of states that have the program and more are interested in developing one. The National Courthouse Dogs Foundation explains the program as follows:
"The use of courthouse dogs can help bring about a major change in how we meet the emotional needs of all involved in the criminal justice system. The dog's calming presence creates a more humane and efficient system that enables judges, lawyers, and staff to accomplish their work in a more positive and constructive manner."
The dogs in the national program are not just used for children but have been used effectively with adults with mental health issues. If a courthouse dog can alleviate trauma to even one child or one disabled person, what a terrific accomplishment. The Courthouse Dog website is packed with valuable information and worth visiting. The site covers potential objections and legal issues that may be raised on appeal. It also offers a free DVD for criminal justice professionals about the use of courthouse dogs.
Read an article in the ABA Animal Law Newsletter - Courthouse Dogs - A Case Study to get a prosecutor's perspective of how the dog, Ellie, assisted a young child during a defense interview, a competency hearing, and a trial. A video of Ellie at work is available on Youtube at http://bit.ly/PSh720.
Also consider reading Using Dogs for Emotional Support of Testifying Victims of Crime, a law review article by Marianne Dellinger in Lewis & Clark Animal Law.