Over the past few years child advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement officials have begun to employ professionally trained facility dogs to comfort children during the investigation and prosecution of crimes. Pavlov, the first of his kind in Tennessee, joins the ranks of 37 other exceptional dogs now working in 19 states.
Pavlov (CAC’s trained companion) a golden retriever/Lab mix ,obtained free of charge from an assistance dog organization called Canine Companions for Independence, began his two years of training at 8 weeks of age and graduated in October 2012. Pavlov has been working for the 23rd Judicial District Child Advocacy Center since November 2012.
Pavlov is able to enter the courtroom with the victim(s), stay beside them in the witness stand and be a calming presence for the duration of the testimony, all without being a distraction or disruption to this important legal process. It is satisfying to the victim(s) to know that there is a friend close by when feelings of nervousness and fear come about, comfort is just a touch away.
The District Attorney General’s Office has been instrumental in instituting the program. The use of a Courtroom Dog, being unchartered territory in the State of Tennessee, requires District Attorney Ray crouch to fight for the victim’s right to have Pavlov accompany them into the courtroom.
As the prosecuting attorney, Ray Crouch stated “It is difficult for adult witnesses to testify in court. I can’t imagine how scared a child must be to take the witness stand and testify to a jury of twelve adults, strangers. I can’t imagine how a child must feel when they are sitting in the witness stand and the defendant that sexually abused them is sitting only feet away, staring non-stop directly at them. I can’t imagine how a child must feel when I ask them to recall an event that is not only painful, but embarrassing and humiliating.”
A child witness must feel completely alone when they are called to the witness stand. The child is literally isolated, in the witness chair, with no parents, family or friends nearby. Testifying in a formal environment is unnatural to children. Pavlov, sitting at the feet of a child, provides a sense of security and comfort.
In a courtroom, children often have a hard time distinguishing who is on their side, who supports them and who does not. With Pavlov by their side, a child knows without a doubt, he or she is not alone.
The Child Advocacy Center hopes that EVERY child across the State who must testify in a court process will have the opportunity to have a “friend” accompany them to ease the fear that comes with testifying.