There is no doubt that the courthouse is a stressful setting for families. Divorce proceedings, parentage litigation, child custody issues, and domestic violence matters are some of the most personal and traumatic areas of the law to the individuals that experience them. The courtrooms may seem daunting and the judges can appear frustrated and unsympathetic. Enter: the Courthouse Dogs program.
One of the first programs that allowed dogs into the courtroom was Courthouse Dogs in King County, Washington. Since 2003, properly trained dogs in Kings County have assisted victims of violent crime. The dogs have even been allowed to accompany victims to the witness stand, however, this is usually reserved for those witnesses who truly require the support.
Now, in Lake County, Illinois, a similar program exists. A two-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever named Mitchell makes the rounds in veterans and drug specialty court rooms. Mitchell is an official member of the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office and his primary duty is to comfort child victims while they are being interviewed at the Lake County Children’s Advocacy Center.
The dog’s primary handlers are Assistant State’s Attorney Jason Grindel and James Magna, a special investigator with the state’s attorney’s office. They approve of the program and say that Mitchell really “breaks the ice” with victims, and other litigants, and has the ability to be “compassionate and intuitive.”
Hopefully, Cook County will develop a similar program soon. Courthouse Dogs would especially ease some of the stress in the concourse level of the Daley Center where children submit to DNA tests and are otherwise sometimes present while their parents wait for their cases to be called.