Typically a courthouse dog greets children and parents who have come into a child advocacy center to initiate the investigation of child sexual abuse. The dog will accompany a child (typically age 4 – 17) during a forensic interview, where the child explains to a trained interviewer the details of the incident of sexual abuse or a similar crime of violence. The dog may accompany a child during the various phases of the investigation and the potential prosecution of the crime, including a defense interview, a competency hearing, and even a courtroom trial.
Courthouse dogs are usually bred, raised and trained by service dog organizations that are members of Assistance Dogs International, such as Canine Companions for Independence or Assistance Dogs of the West. Most of these dogs are either Golden or Labrador retrievers or a combination of the two breeds. The dogs do not create a public danger and are stable, well behaved, and unobtrusive to the public. The use of these facility dogs can help bring about a major change in how we meet the emotional needs of all involved in the criminal justice system. Their calming presence promotes justice with compassion.
Criminal justice professionals — district attorneys, law enforcement officers, forensic interviewers, psychologists, social workers and victim advocates—handle these dogs. When the dogs go home, they are beloved pets that live with their primary handlers.