We are the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, and we’ve helped place over 80 facility dogs in courthouses and child advocacy centers across the nation. Ask Us Anything!
Hello, reddit! We are Ellen O’Neill-Stephens and Celeste Walsen, the founders of the Courthouse Dogs Foundation. We are a small nonprofit organization that teaches professionals working in the legal field (typically prosecutors, victims’ advocates, child advocacy centers, judges, and investigators) about how to utilize assistance dogs in the justice system. Since 2004, we have facilitated the placement of over 80 facility dogs with various legal professionals across the country. We teach and travel with our own facility dog, Molly B.
These assistance dogs are used to aid victims of violent crimes and abuse, with a special focus on supporting children. The dogs accompany these children in interviews with forensic investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and testimony in court. They typically stay quietly next to the witness (or at their feet in court) while they talk about their experience, and have been shown to greatly alleviate the stress that comes with disclosing abuse and discussing traumatic experiences. For some children, this helps make the difference between being able to testify in court and completely shutting down. The Courthouse Dogs Foundation doesn’t directly train the dogs- instead, we teach people how to use them responsibly and effectively.
Also, a little bit of background about us: Ellen O’Neill-Stephens worked as a prosecutor in King County, Washington for over 20 years before retiring to found the nonprofit with Celeste Walsen, DVM. Ellen was one of the first people to use an assistance dog to work in the legal system when in 2003, she began bringing a service dog in to juvenile court. Since 2012, both Ellen and Celeste have been working full time for Courthouse Dogs Foundation.
We use a special kind of assistance dog called a facility dog. This is a dog who graduates from an assistance dog school that is accredited by Assistance Dogs International, which oversees the organizations that train dogs to become assistance dogs, including service animals such as guide dogs and hearing dogs. However, unlike service dogs, a facility dog is used by a professional to aid many different people instead of just one person. They are used in places like a special education classroom, a therapist’s office, and now, at courtrooms and interviews with crime investigators. These animals are not just pets- they have two years of intensive training, and are highly reliable in challenging conditions. These animals are different from pet therapy dogs, which have lower standards of training and varying temperaments which may not be appropriate for being in a high-stress environment.
If you would like to support us, you can donate to our cause at the following link: http://courthousedogs.com/donate.html
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Thanks for all of your questions, reddit! We'll come back tomorrow morning to answer any last questions, so feel free to leave some for us in the morning!