by Annette Pinder
The American Bar Association House of Delegates approved a resolution in 2021 urging all jurisdictions to permit a specially trained canine to accompany an anxious or traumatized individual who is testifying in court. Since then, at least 16 states permit certified dogs to accompany victims and vulnerable witnesses in specified circumstances.
More and more, canine companions are becoming professionally trained to become courthouse facility dogs to work in prosecutor’s offices, child advocacy centers, at mediations, depositions, and family courts to provide a calming influence during stressful proceedings. Locally, Rachel Cunningham, a student at University of Buffalo School of Law, found comfort in having her attorney’s dog present during her deposition.
“When I had to sit through a deposition as Attorney Lindy Korn’s client in Buffalo, I was lucky to have Lindy’s dog Zev with us.” Rachel, who was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of trauma she experienced in the military, says the lawsuit exacerbated her anxiety. Particularly anxious during the deposition, she recalls, “Zev kept the atmosphere lighter and calming. To be honest, he may not be an actual ‘service’ dog, but it was almost like he knew when I was getting upset because he would come lay by my feet or by my side at just the right time. Sometimes, he would poke his head through the arm of the chair to get my attention and I would obviously smile and pet him. It removed me from the intensity of the moment and gave me a chance to breath and reset. Zev made for a wonderful therapy dog, and I am extremely appreciative to have had him there,” says Rachel.
As legally neutral companions for witnesses during the investigation and prosecution of crimes, trained dogs help the most vulnerable witnesses feel willing and able to describe what happened. “The dogs also provide emotional support to participants in family court proceedings and in specialty/treatment courts,” according to Court House Dogs, explaining that these dogs help traumatized victims tell their stories.
Rachel notes that one of the students attending law school with her has a therapy dog accompany her to class. “I don’t know the circumstances surrounding this student’s particular need, but Rue is with us every day and she is awesome. I truly believe she brings support to all of us. During breaks and between classes, we all spend time giving Rue love. When we received our headshots at the start of the semester, Rue got one too. It was definitely the best looking one out of our entire class.
Locally, courthouse dogs are currently being used at the Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County in Watertown, the Ontario County DA’s office in Canandaigua, and several other locations. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoUDEisAisg for a video of a trained dog helping a trauma victim. Meanwhile, Zev will be available to support Lindy’s clients get through the anxiety that different legal proceedings provoke whenever appropriate. Learn more about the topic at www.courthousedogs.com.
Lindy Korn, Esq. is an attorney who focuses on preventing and correcting illegal workplace discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. Learn more at www.buffalo-discrimination-attorney.com or call 716-856-KORN.