Have you heard of a courthouse dog? They’re not legal experts, but these specially trained dogs are being used in the criminal justice system to help provide support for crime victims and their families, and even for social workers or other staff members.
Increasingly, courthouse dogs are being used in states across the country. Although they’re called courthouse dogs, these dogs often work not only in the courthouse, but in facilities like child advocacy centers. Courthouse dogs are typically therapy dogs; however, some of these working dogs may have more advanced training as assistance dogs and can even work as medical alert and response dogs.
Daisy is one example of an advance trained, assistance dog pulling double duty as a courthouse dog. I had the privilege of interviewing Lori Raineri and Cameron Handley about Daisy, and her role at the Yolo County, California Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center (MDIC) on Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com (please feel free to listen in to their full interview).
Lori personally trained Daisy as her assistance dog. She loved Daisy so much that she felt compelled to share Daisy’s talents with others. Lori reached out to her local District Attorney, Jeff Reisig, about creating a courthouse dog program. Reisig loved the idea and connected Lori with Cameron, the director of the MDIC. Through their joint efforts, the Yolo County pilot courthouse dog program was born!
The program’s goal is to reduce the trauma a child goes through when dealing with the stresses of the criminal justice system. Daisy helps calm the children and others participating in the process. She also helps them begin to trust again and to start the healing process. For professionals in the system, Daisy provides some relief from the emotionally draining situations they deal with day after day.
Daisy is there at the Center to greet the children when they arrive, and if they want, she can be with them during interviews, medical exams, and in court. Daisy knows a large number of commands, even in multiple languages. She can do tricks to break the ice, but then gets down to business, just quietly being there, comforting the children and their families during a tough time.
You can listen to the complete interview to discover more about how this public-private partnership was developed, all the tasks Daisy performs, and even how this unique government worker commutes to the office. You can also get ideas about how you might be able to start a similar program in your community.
I was so impressed with the work Cameron, Lori and Daisy, are doing together. I hope you are, too. I was also excited to see that the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (www.iaadp.org) are including a session on Courthouse Dogs at their upcoming Conference to be held September 25, 2010 in Seattle, Washington.