Man's best friend is stepping in to provide comfort and emotional support to crime victims.
Courthouse canines have become a growing trend for criminal justice agencies nationwide. Pima and Maricopa counties are using the four-legged courthouse officers to help victims in stressful courtroom situation. The counties have found that the dogs bring a calming effect to victims, especially to children and vulnerable adults.
Blake is a black Labrador Retriever. Accompanied with his handler, Colleen Phelan, the highly trained professional works as a facility dog at the courthouse. Phelan, a victim advocate, said Blake even wears a badge from the Pima County Attorney's Office.
“Most days, we are packed from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.,” Phelan said.
For the next few weeks, the pair will be working on a trial involving child abuse .
County Attorney Barbara LaWall brought the Courthouse Dog program to Pima County in 2012 with Russell, a Golden Retriever. She said he was such an asset and in demand that they added Blake the following year.
“When a dog is present, kids will actually talk to the dog. They tell them what happened to them," said LaWall. "[They are] more open [to the dogs] than they are with adults.”
Recently, a child told her mom she was terrified of dogs. Phelan said the child then came to the Kids in Court Program.
“She saw Blake and by the end of it, she requested us for her trial,” said Phelan.
Blake sat with the little girl during the trial.
“At the end, she drew me a picture and said thank you because it made all the difference for her in testifying,” said Phelan.
The courthouse canines are also making a difference statewide. Blake and Russell recently won a prestigious state award.
“This particular award that was given just this past month was for innovation, risk taking, uniqueness and vision in the criminal justice system,” LaWall said.
This is not bad for an $11,000 investment that was paid for with money seized from criminals.
Blake’s presence not only calms the victims of crime, but some say it’s one of the courts most important assets.
For more information on the national Courthouse Dogs program, visit courthousedogs.com.
For more information about the programs and services offered by the Pima County Attorney's Office, visit pcao.pima.gov.