Dog helps ease victims’ fears in Dickson County courtroom

Dog helps ease victims' fears in Dickson County courtroom (Image 1)

A new program is allowing dogs inside courtrooms in Dickson County in an effort to help young children who face tough questions on the stand.

Pavlov is a retriever that was trained by the group Courthouse Dogs Foundation.

Currently he is one of 39 dogs in the program and the first in Tennessee.

Former prosecutor Ellen O'Neill-Stephens, who now heads up the foundation, told Nashville's News 2 that the dogs have proved invaluable in certain cases.

“In some occasions these dogs will go into the courtroom to sit with the witness when they testify in court because testifying in court can be a particularly stressful situation to be in,” she explained.

According to O'Neill-Stephens, victims of child sexual abuse are particularly comforted by dogs such as Pavlov.

“As you can imagine it's very scary for children to come in and talk to a complete stranger about this, but when they see the dog they relax,” she said.

Pavlov has been working with children at the Child Advocacy Center of the 23rd District for the past 6 weeks.

“We already have some wonderful success stories,” said Kim Stringfield Davis of the center. “The first interview that Pavlov sat it on the young girl was drawing on the board and wasn't paying attention to Pavlov, but the moment she started disclosing the events of the abuse she reached down and started caressing Pavlov, for release and comfort. “

Attorney General for the 23rd district Dan Alsobrooks told Nashville's News 2 he learned of Courthouse Dogs while talking to a fellow judge in Idaho.

“This is an opportunity to make the courtroom a little more friendly [and] a little more accepting for children.”

Children can also talk to Pavlov when no one is present in the room. In those situations, the conversation is recorded and permissible to use in court.

Pavlov isn't limited to abuse cases involving children, but will also work in trails involving elderly or vulnerable victims.

For more information on the Courthouse Dogs, visit their Web site.

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