Support dogs are providing comfort to victims of crime and vulnerable witnesses giving evidence in court, under a pilot program being extended by the Office of Public Prosecutions.
Attorney-General Martin Pakula today joined John Cain, Solicitor for Public Prosecutions, to announce the Victims Support Dog 12-week Pilot Program would be extended into 2018.
Since October, a fully trained three-year-old Labrador named Coop has been available for half a day each week to sit with vulnerable witnesses when they are waiting for court or giving evidence at the OPP’s remote witness facility.
The OPP Witness Assistance Service report that having Coop nearby noticeably reduces stress for witnesses and victims, allowing them to give evidence with fewer breaks and stay engaged in the court process.
Coop, trained by ‘K9 Support’, can take commands from strangers, make eye contact and physical contact, respond to emotional states, and lie beside someone for extended periods of time.
Following the success of the pilot program, the OPP is extending the program to two full days a week with Coop in 2018. A puppy-in-training, called Champ, is also being taught to follow in Coop’s footsteps.
Training a support dog takes 18 months as the dogs need to be able to cope with highly emotional witnesses.
National and international studies show that support dogs help in stressful situations, assisting witnesses to maintain their composure and recall facts more easily.
Similar programs have been used in US courts since the 1990s.
Quotes attributable to Attorney-General Martin Pakula
“Giving evidence in court can be extremely daunting, particularly for young children and vulnerable witnesses. This unique program is helping to make the process a little less stressful for people in the system.”
“Support dogs create a calmer and more comfortable environment, helping to make the whole process less traumatic.”
“I commend the OPP for extending this program so that Coop can continue to provide support for those who need it most.”
Quotes attributable to Public Prosecutions Solicitor John Cain
“The program has been an outstanding success so far, with early results indicating witnesses with Coop’s support have been able to get through their evidence more quickly with less need for breaks.”
“We are open to trying anything that will make the process for giving evidence easier for victims.”
Reviewed 19 August 2020