Promoting justice through the use of well-trained dogs to provide emotional support for everyone in our criminal justice system
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Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Ellen O'Neill-Stephens , Founder, has worked for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office located in Seattle, Washington since 1985. The courthouse dog program began in 2003 when Ellen's son, Sean Stephens, shared his service dog Jeeter with those in need at Juvenile Drug Court one day a week.
What are Courthouse Dogs?
We use the term “courthouse dogs” for two reasons.
The courthouse is the epicenter of the criminal justice system. Although the dogs may assist people outside the courthouse, their work is done with the expectation that the case will be concluded in that setting.
Canines are not just “man’s best friend,” but have served mankind in institutional settings for centuries. The courthouse dogs of the 21st Century find a ready analog in the 19th Century firehouse dogs—the Dalmatians who were trained to run in front of a horse-drawn fire apparatus to clear a path and quickly guide the horses and firefighters to the scene. The Dalmatians also served as rescue dogs to locate victims in burning buildings.
We are confident that in this century the public will associate courthouse dogs with an equally vital role of improving the criminal justice system. Not only are they already helping prosecutors get to the truth more quickly, but they also assist crime victims by providing emotional support during the numerous points in the criminal justice process where they must relate, and relive, traumatic experiences.
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The presence of a facility dog during a forensic interview can be a source of comfort to the child during the interview process and may allow them to more easily describe any abuse that that they may have experienced. A good forensic interview can greatly increase the strength of a case and may lead to a defendant accepting a plea.