Trained Dogs Help Ease Courtroom Fears

Courthouse Dogs

Testifying in a courtroom, specially against your abusers, can be downright terrifying. There’s the anxiety of revisiting traumatizing memories and facing their attackers, the pressure of being cowed into saying things you may regret later, the gaze of mixed and unpleasant emotions from the witnesses, and all the unnecessary drama that comes with it. Sometimes we wish there was just one more friendly face in the crowd who can hold our hand and gives us that look of love that says we can do it, they believe in us, we can get through this.

Sometimes, all we need is a helping hand. Or in this case, a paw.

Ellen O’Neill Stephens and Celeste Walsen spearheaded and founded Courthouse Dogs, an organization that advocates the presence of trained dogs to provide a soothing presence not just in courthouse justice processes, but also in child advocacy centers and prosecutor interviews.


“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 shares with Upworthy. “This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal. A lot of people come out damaged by it.”

Whether they’re curled up on a couch with a child during a prosecutor interview, or looking up in silence with their head on the witnesses lap in the witness box, the calming effect these dogs exude provides a much0-needed sense of protection for their charges.

These courthouse dogs have been trained to handle stress from a very wee age. As young as puppyhood, they are introduced to tiny amounts of stress — such as being placed on a cold metal surface — and then getting picked up and soother with much affection and cuddles, by the time they have grown to a full service age, these dogs ar eimmune to chaos and high-stress situations.

Dogs have been considered Man’s Best Friend for a very good reason. “We count on dogs to tell us when there’s a bad guy around,” Walsen adds. the presence of a dog provides a sense of calm, lowers blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and in turn allows the person to focus and relate their experience from a much more safer, non-threatened perspective.

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