Officials receive courthouse dog training

January 29, 2011 • Local News

Molly B, a training dog from Seattle, waits patiently for commands at the Chaves County Courthouse Friday during Meet the Courthouse Dogs, a legal training course on the issues and protocol of using assistance dogs. (Mark Wilson Photo)

Courthouse Dogs, LLC, a Washington state consultant firm that trains public officials and various organizations on how to use courthouse dogs in the courtroom, trained several Roswell public officials this week. On Friday, the last training session took place at the Chaves County Courthouse.

Fifth Judicial District Attorney Janetta B. Hicks and Assistant District Attorney Alan Griffin, as well as several Roswell attorneys, law enforcement officials and members of the public, attended Friday’s session.

“I think that a courthouse dog could be a phenomenal tool in the criminal justice system for all of the participants,” Hicks said. “Every time there’s a trial, it’s an emotional experience [auth] regardless of which side of the trial you’re on. I think it can be an amazing tool.”

Griffin echoed Hicks’ praise.

“I think it’s terrific and I’m excited about it,” he said. “I hope we can make it work. We’ve been discussing (courthouse dogs) for a couple of years now. I hope we can use these dogs to help kids get through the court process because it’s really hard on kids to testify in court. I hope we can use (them) somewhere.”

During the presentation, there was a question and answer session, where local officials expressed their concerns and praised the use of courthouse dogs. Some had doubts, but most were optimistic.

“Anytime you try something new, something innovative, there is some caution and fear of change,” Hicks said. “This is the future.”

Some officials commented that a dog in the courtroom, during witness testimony, could impact a jury or be seen as an advantage for a prosecuting attorney during a child sexual abuse case. Griffin said it is possible for the use of courthouse dogs to work in everyone’s favor.

“I think if we can have the dog up with the child in the witness box and the jury doesn’t know it’s there — I think that might work,” Griffin said. “I can’t think of a good objection to that from the defense perspective.”

The training session included a presentation on the “legal issues and protocol” of using courthouse assistance dogs to help child sexual abuse victims and other participants through forensic interviews and courtroom trials.

The session was led by Celeste Warren, executive director of Courthouse Dogs, and Seattle prosecuting attorney Ellen O’Neil-Stephens.

“I have been giving presentations all over the country for the past three years,” O’Neil-Stephens said. “I loved the discussion between the assistant district attorneys and the defense attorneys about what the potential issues could be, and talking collaboratively about whether or not we could make this work. I thought that was great.”

At 4:30 p.m., members of the community met with Carrie-Leigh Cloutier, executive director of CASA, Emma, CASA assistance dog, courthouse dog Molly-B, Stephens and Warren at Pecos Flavors Winery. Courthouse dogs aid individuals going through physical and psychological trauma stemming from criminal related situations.

Dogs have assisted juveniles serving time in detention centers, recovering drug addicts and sexual abuse victims, among others. The dogs are professionally trained by accredited members of Assistance Dogs International.

“The criminal justice system is very stressful,” O’Neil- Stephens said. “The presence of the dogs can make us do a better job in seeking justice.”

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