San Francisco Gets a Courthouse Dog to Comfort Witnesses

Service and therapy dogs seem to be everywhere, even in the courthouse -- where they're needed.


Once upon a time, the use of service dogs was relatively limited. Primarily, there were “seeing eye dogs” to help people with visual disabilities, and dogs trained for search and rescue missions, and little beyond that.

San Francisco gives an excellent example of how broadly the roles of service dogs are expanding. A trained Golden Retriever named Faber has been introduced to a San Francisco courthouse to help comfort witnesses and victims. District Attorney George Gascon says that Faber helps people who might have already been traumatized and face even more stress in the court.

“The legal system is very, very complex and very intimidating to many people, especially when we are dealing with vulnerable victims, young people, the elderly, people who have been subjected to very traumatic violence,” he told ABC.

I can already imagine people pointing to Faber as another demonstration of San Francisco’s crunchy-granola culture. It’s inevitable. But as much as I like mocking some of the local foibles and fallacies, having a service dog in a courthouse makes perfect sense once you stop giggling and start to think. As Gascon says, many of the people coming to the courthouse have already been through intense violation and trauma. Some are even suffering from PTSD because of the very events that brought them to court in the first place. Generally speaking, few courthouses try to accommodate that. On the contrary, the government entities that construct courthouses and the court system seem to go to great lengths to make the buildings and procedures as intimidating as possible.

And while Faber is the first courthouse dog in San Francisco, the idea isn’t unique to San Francisco. In fact, therapy dogs have worked in courthouses and courtrooms for at least 20 years, although they’re still far from common. In 1994, a German Shepherd named Vacchs got a lot of press for helping comfort abused children while they testified in court.

For now, Faber isn’t going that far. He’s still working only in the hallways and interview rooms, rather than the trials themselves. It might be a while before dogs are broadly associated with legal proceedings, but bit by bit, they’re proving that they do have a place in the system.

Via ABC News

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