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.


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“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 told Upworthy. “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.

More info: courthousedogs.com | Courthouse_Dogs (h/t: upworthy, wcyb)

Testifying in court can be a traumatic event

“We are a two person/one dog non-profit organization,” Ellen O’Neil told Bored Panda

Courthouse Dogs strives to make this ordeal bearable

“Right now we are training at the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office”

“When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place”

“It can take up to two years to implement a courthouse facility dog program because there are so many political stakeholders involved in agreeing to open up their doors to the dogs”

“These dogs should be available to any vulnerable witness that would have difficulty talking about what happened”

“It also takes some time on the waiting list of an assistance dog organization to acquire the dog”

“That could be an adult rape victim or family member who’s child has been murdered and have to testify in court”

“However, these dogs are well worth the wait”

“This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal”

“Ellie, the first dog to do this type of work was placed at the King County Prosecutor’s Office in 2004 and she is still working there”

“We count on dogs to tell us when there’s a bad guy around”

“Over the course of her career she has helped thousands of people”

“[W]hen we’re in the presence of a relaxed dog, it makes us feel that we’re in a safe place”

“I love being a deputy prosecutor but my efforts to make the legal system more humane by advocating for these dogs to help people through this process is much more gratifying”

“[This] can lower our blood pressure and reduce anxiety”

“Justice with compassion!”

“I used to think… I was supposed to make the witnesses squirm”

“But now I’m telling judges, that technique doesn’t work”