Courthouse Dogs Are Bringing Compassion To Victims Testifying In Court

by Elana

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.


1. Friendship comes in many forms.

“We are a two person/one dog non-profit organization.” -Co-founder Ellen O’Neil

2. Making the stress bearable.

Gentle pats, hugs, and comforting glances. That's what these dogs are here for.

3. "Right now we are training at the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office."

“When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place.”


4. Timing.

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.”

5. Compassion

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.”

6. Waiting

“It also takes some time on the waiting list of an assistance dog organization to acquire the dog.”


7. The problem with waiting...

“That could be an adult rape victim or family member who’s child has been murdered and have to testify in court.”

8. “However, these dogs are well worth the wait.”

“This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal.”

9. Why it Works

“We count on dogs to tell us when there’s a bad guy around. [W]hen we’re in the presence of a relaxed dog, it makes us feel that we’re in a safe place. “[This] can lower our blood pressure and reduce anxiety."

10. Compassion in the justice system.

“I love being a deputy prosecutor but my efforts to make the legal system more humane by advocating for these dogs to help people through this process is much more gratifying.”

“I used to think… I was supposed to make the witnesses squirm. But now I’m telling judges, that technique doesn’t work.”

Everyone needs a new haircut now and again, even our furry friends. Have a look at these before and after photos of doggos getting a make-over.


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