Dog in court approved for child sex abuse victims

FAUQUIER COUNTY, Va. (WUSA9) -- Walking up the steps of a courthouse, and into a court of law to testify against someone who abused you, can be terrifying.

The defendant can be sitting just a few feet away and the victim is often afraid to talk. For children, it just may be too much to handle. But specially-trained courthouse dogs can help.

"The dog accompanies a witness and helps the witness be calm and collected enough to tell their side of the story," said Celeste Walsen who runs the Courthouse Dog Foundation in Seattle, Washington. She has helped the Fauquier County Commonwealth's Attorney's office win approval to receive a trained facility dog for the courthouse. The approval came from St. Francis Service Dogs out of Roanoke, Virginia. It will train one of its dogs for Fauquier and then train a person from Fauquier's victims assistance program to be the handler.

The dogs are trained to sit for two to three hours at a time, if needed.

"For a human petting a dog, it has the same physiological response as getting a hug from a friend," Walsen explained. They are already being used in 23 states and have helped secure convictions by helping the witness testify.

The judge in each case must give the okay to have the dog be in courtroom.

Walsen says her organization helped an 11-year-old who had been raped for years by her father. Although the judge did not allow the dog in the courtroom during the trial, the child did play with the dog in the courtroom before the trial. That was enough to help the child be calm enough to testify. The father was convicted and received 28 years behind bars.

The dogs can be used through every stage of a case, from speaking to social workers, to the prosecutor, to the jury, says Fauquier County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Fisher. He is looking forward to receiving the dog sometime this year.


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