Public speaking is stressful, and testifying in court can be particularly so. In countries where defendants have the right to confront their accusers, witnesses, especially young ones, often struggle under the pressure. Ellen O’Neill Stephens and Celeste Walsen, of Courthouse Dogs, believe they have the solution: dogs in the courtroom to comfort witnesses.
“When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place,” O’Neill said.
“This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal. A lot of people come out damaged by it.”
Courthouse dogs are trained specifically for the job, a process that can take over two years. Courthouse Dogs was founded in 2004, and presently employs 87 dogs working in 28 states. The non-profit primarily uses Labradors or golden retrievers.