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From Pup to Courthouse Therapy Dog, Part 1

Posted by Writing PIs on November 24, 2018

Today our Rottie pup, Traveller, graduated from her second dog-training course. Afterward the trainer, who also trains therapy dogs, said, “Traveller’s too gregarious to be a service dog, but her friendliness and smarts are perfect for a therapy dog.”

We’ve always anticipated Traveller occasionally working with us on future investigations. After talking to our trainer, we’re now considering having Traveller trained as a therapy dog, too. Not right away as she’s still a pup. The Alliance of Therapy Dogs requires a dog to be at least one year old before starting training.

Service Dogs vs. Therapy Dogs

Service dogs and therapy dogs play two different roles, which are not interchangeable.

Service Dogs

These dogs work as a team with their physically, emotionally, or mentally challenged human partners. They help their person attain safety and independence, such as alerting a hearing-challenged person that a visitor is ringing the doorbell. Service dogs are not for petting as that could prevent the dog from performing its job correctly; in fact, most service dogs have a “no petting” policy established by their owners, with the dog often wearing a label requesting people to not pet the dog.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities so that they can be accompanied by their service dogs in public places such as stores, hotels, and restaurants.

Therapy Dogs

These dogs are even-tempered, gentle, and amiable. Whereas service dogs work as a one-on-one team with their person/handler, therapy dogs provide psychological or physiological therapy to a variety of individuals other than their handlers. It’s all right to pet on-duty therapy dogs, even encouraged by their handlers.

People petting airport therapy dog

Therapy dogs visit places such as schools, airports, rehabilitation centers, courtrooms, and more. Their roles vary depending on people’s needs. For example, therapy dogs might participate in a person’s physical rehabilitation, offer comfort at a hospital, or help encourage a child to read out loud.

Therapy dogs do not have the legal access rights that service dogs have.

Back to our pup Traveller. What kind of therapy dog might she be? Considering we’re legal investigators, makes sense for her to become a courthouse dog.

What Is A Courthouse Dog?

These are specially trained dogs that provide emotional support to people who have suffered physical, psychological or emotional trauma as a result of criminal conduct. For example, a courthouse dog might offer comfort to a sexually abused child while he/she undergoes forensic interviews and testifying in court. These dogs will also greet jurors; offer a soothing presence for vulnerable witnesses; provide a sense of normalcy during emotionally charged court hearings; even cuddle and play with troubled teenagers waiting for hearings.

A courtroom dog might wait outside courtroom doors, ready to comfort witnesses and others (image in public domain)

Courthouse dogs truly become a member of the court as they often visit with court support staff, defense counsel, law enforcement officers and judges during the course of a work day.

Criminal justice professions—such as a deputy prosecutor, law enforcement officer, victim advocate, or as in our case, legal investigator—handle courthouse dogs.

During the Holmes theatre-shooting case here in Colorado, we would see several courthouse dogs waiting outside the courtroom to comfort witnesses, family members, and others.

Next, let’s look at the story of a courthouse dog named Rosie.

Rosie, the First Courthouse Dog in New York State

In 2011, Rosie, an 11-year-old Golden Retriever, had her first day on the job as a courthouse dog. Before a court proceeding began, Rosie met Jessica, a 15-year-old girl who would be testifying in court about being raped.

Rosie and Jessica took the stand before the trial began so the jury wouldn’t see Rosie and possibly be influenced by her presence one way or the other. Throughout her testimony, Jessica petted Rosie — at one point, Jessica removed her shoe and buried her toes in Rosie’s fur. When asked by the prosecutor to point out the man who raped her, Jessica froze. Rosie, sensing Jessica’s distress, laid her head in the girl’s lap to comfort her. After a few moments, Jessica was able to point to the man.

Jessica and Rosie had been visiting each other for three months in preparation for Jessica’s trial date. During that time, the girl and dog had become acquainted by playing together, and Rosie had also learned how to tolerate the tight space of a witness box. Her handler would have Rosie sit in front of a barrier that the handler gradually moved closer to the dog until it mimicked being in a box.

The training paid off. With Rosie’s help, Jessica remained calm during her testimony, and the jury found the defendant guilty.

Therapy Dog Training and Certifying

In the months ahead, we’ll register Traveller for a training class that is a pre-requisite to her entering a therapy dog training course. If Traveller successfully graduates from that class, we’ll next register her in a therapy-dog training program for certification. Last, she’ll work with trainers who specialize in courtroom therapy dogs. We’re waiting for our current dog trainer and her team to finalize their dog-therapy training program here in Colorado (name and links forthcoming).

Below are several AKC-recognized therapy dog organizations that offer training, certification, support, and more:

Alliance of Therapy Dogs

Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc.

Love on a Leash

Therapy Dogs International

 

When Traveller enters the next stage of training, I’ll post “From Pup to Courthouse Therapy Dog, Part 2.”

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Unless an image is noted as being in the public domain, do not copy or distribute images as they are copyrighted. Sections “What Is a Courthouse Dog?” and “Rosie, the First Courthouse Dog in New York State” are excerpts from A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms co-written by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman.

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