If you thought to issue a speech in high school was difficult you're not alone. Public speaking is a common fear for people everywhere. However common this fear may be, there is a situation that is even more difficult. In quite a few countries defendants have the right to confront their accusers, which means that victims seeking justice are often required to sit in a courtroom and relive their traumatic experience.
On top of recounting what happened to them, they are subject to being questioned by the defendant's attorney at times. The entire experience can be nearly as traumatic as the event that led to court in the first place for some victims.
In an act of empathy and compassion, Ellen O’Neill Stephens and Celeste Walsen found a solution in Courthouse Dogs: dogs in the courtroom to comfort testifying victims. O'Neill told UpWorthy recently:
When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place. This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal. A lot of people come out damaged by it.
The pair's non-profit organization was founded in 2004 and they spend nearly 2 years specifically training dogs for their very important jobs. As they stand today, Courthouse Dogs operates in 28 states and employs 87 dogs. Most of their dogs are Labradors or Golden Retrievers. Just looking at the photos it is clear to see the compassion in the animals' eyes as they help victims through their difficult times.
“We are a two person/one dog non-profit organization.” -Co-founder Ellen O’Neil
Gentle pats, hugs, and comforting glances. That's what these dogs are here for.
“When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place.”
The program is not without its bumps in the road: “It can take up to two years to implement a courthouse facility dog program because there are so many political stakeholders involved in agreeing to open up their doors to the dogs.”
Despite the uphill battle, the founders remain vigilant: “These dogs should be available to any vulnerable witness that would have difficulty talking about what happened.”
“It also takes some time on the waiting list of an assistance dog organization to acquire the dog.”
“That could be an adult rape victim or family member who’s child has been murdered and have to testify in court.”
“This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal.”