Australia’s First Courtroom Dog Comforts Witnesses And Victims

baby hand petting black fur

(Picture Credit: Sabine Scheckel/Getty Images)

Australia expanded its courtroom employee count by one. This new addition is Coop, a black Labrador who has one specialization: to emotionally aid victims and witnesses in the witness box.

Her trainer is Tessa Stow, who trains service dogs. Stow had her own negative experience in the courtroom, which planted the seed of the project in her mind.

“Not long after that, I became a vet nurse and really saw the impact and power that animals had on their owners,” said Stow. “So I put the two together, and thought it would be absolutely fantastic to be able to train a dog to help in a court process.”

From here on, she took care of training Coop to become the courtroom dog that she is now. She saw the previous programs in the U.S. and Canada where dogs were already in courtrooms to offer emotional help to witnesses.

Coop’s job as a courtroom dog started in 2017 at the Office of Public Prosecutions. Since then, she has already been around to offer emotional aid to 140 victims and witnesses. Courtroom comfort dogs are particularly helpful for victims of sexual assault. One of the victims Coop helped, Leah Stephens, described the experience as a big help.

“She was like my mother and my grandmother put together, and the feelings that she gave me were just overwhelming,” said Stephens.

A New Trend With U.S. Courtroom Dogs

Training court dogs can be a lot of work, but the results of the legwork in the U.S. prove that it is highly worthwhile and successful. Currently, six states already legislated the right for witnesses to have a dog with them on the stand. Also, 37 other states allow dogs in court.

Court dogs are great at reducing fear in victims and making them feel more comfortable on the stand. Having a dog in the courtroom gives a reassuring sense that the dog will not leave the witness behind. Most victims who have experienced this kind of therapy are able to have less anxiety and discomfort. This is especially important for those who must confront their attackers or relive traumatic memories while giving testimony.

Resistance From Some Defendants And Judges

Not everyone agrees that dogs should be allowed on the stand. Some defense lawyers, like Christopher Decker, argue that the presence of a courtroom dog boosts the witness’s credibility and puts the defendant in an odd position.

“I think it distracts the jurors from what their job is,” Decker said. As far as their effect on the victims, however, the results are unanimous. They offer comfort and lessen vulnerability, which aids victims through their tough times.

What are your thoughts on courtroom dogs? Do they help or worsen the situation in court? Let us know your thoughts!

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