The courtroom is a stressful environment for all people, especially children. Testifying against a scary adult can be terrifying, causing many kids to shut down.
In an effort to help, programs across the country have started using dogs to provide comfort and support to people in court. The Canine Advocacy Program (CAP) in Michigan is the latest program to join others in Washington, California, and Florida, and specializes in helping children.
CAP was founded last year by Dan Cojanu, former supervisor of the Victim Services Unit for the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office.
Dan says that kids take to his dog, Amos, instantly causing their anxiety to melt away. Amos, came from Leader Dogs for the Blind who left the program because he pulled too much on his leash. However, the Chocolate Labrador's friendly and calm demeanor was perfect for the Canine Advocacy Program.
Amos is called into cases by child advocates, law enforcement, and judges. He's trained to sit near children while they wait to testify or even when they're on the stand. Amos’ latest job was to accompany two children into an Oakland courtroom to testify against a defendant charged with criminal sexual conduct.
While it's easy to see the calming effect that courtroom dogs have on kids, not everyone has welcomed Amos just yet. Some prosecutors don't want to risk having their case reversed or having the child to testify again. Potential allergies and phobias further complicate the matter.
Currently there is no established case law concerning dogs as witness companions in courtrooms. Hopefully this is something that can be explored as a next step to standardizing pets in the courtroom.