More

How these 87 specially trained dogs are helping dig up the truth in courtrooms across the country

Everyone deserves to be heard, and these dogs are helping some witnesses find their voices.

How these 87 specially trained dogs are helping dig up the truth in courtrooms across the country

In 2014, three young children were removed from their Ohio home after suffering unspeakable acts of abuse.

The kids were so traumatized, it took them months to even begin to open up to investigators about what had happened to them. When it came time to go to court, two of them had to testify from a separate room because facing their attackers was just too traumatic.

Sadly, this is all too common.


Research focusing on sexual abuse shows that testifying in court can actually amplify trauma for young victims, yet so many are forced to take the stand regardless.

This is a huge problem. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution gives defendants the right to confront their accusers in court. And it's a really, really tough thing to reconcile. In America, you're innocent until proven guilty, and you deserve a fair shake in court.

But at what cost? How can we make sure our trials are fair and justice is served without putting victims through such an awful emotional ordeal?

Ellen O'Neill Stephens and Celeste Walsen think they have the answer: dogs in the courtroom to comfort witnesses.

All photos courtesy of Ellen and Celeste of Courthouse Dogs.

Ellen, a retired prosecutor, and Celeste, a veterinary doctor, run Courthouse Dogs, an organization that advocates for more dogs in the criminal justice process. And not just in the courtroom, either, but also in child advocacy centers and during prosecutor interviews as well.

If you ask me, more dogs is always a good thing — no matter the situation.

But Ellen and Celeste actually have some excellent evidence behind why we need them in court.

Ellen told Upworthy, "When a person is reliving a traumatic event, they experience physiological reactions similar to what they had when the event was taking place."

"This adversarial system [of testifying in front of your attacker] is brutal," she added. "A lot of people come out damaged by it."

The dogs provide a calming presence, whether they're curled up on the couch with a child as he or she gets interviewed by a prosecutor or sleeping peacefully at the feet of a witness in the witness box.

Celeste says that because of the longstanding relationship between humans and dogs, "we count on dogs to tell us when there's a bad guy around." So when we're in the presence of a relaxed dog, it makes us feel that we're in a safe place, which can lower our blood pressure and reduce anxiety.

These are no ordinary dogs. They undergo years of training, and only the best of the best ever make it to the big show.

Unlike therapy dogs, who are regular dogs who have completed some basic coursework, courtroom facility dogs are raised for this kind of work from the get-go. Trainers start by introducing teeny, tiny bits of stress to the young dogs — like putting them on a cold metal surface — and then picking them up and soothing them with cuddles.

By the time they're grown, the dogs are practically immune to chaos and high-stress situations.

It takes about two years of this kind of training before the dogs are deployed to a prosecutor's office or other justice outfit, where they then work full-time defusing tense environments and putting witnesses at ease.

Right now, according to Ellen and Celeste, there are about 87 dogs working in some capacity in 28 states, mostly Labradors or golden retrievers, since they look so dang friendly and have calm temperaments. But the program is starting to gain worldwide traction, with dogs now in places like Chile and Canada.

Courtroom dogs can make victims feel safe, but the real purpose of the program is to help us get to the truth.

Ellen and Celeste told us their vision is to one day see these dogs available to anyone who's been traumatized by crime, old or young, male or female, innocent ... or even guilty.

"I used to think, when I went into the courtroom, I was supposed to make the witnesses squirm, uncomfortable, so they'd somehow blurt out the truth," Ellen said. "But now I'm telling judges, that technique doesn't work."

They told me that young victims will often shut down during interviews, especially because their parents often can't be there. Bring in a dog, though, and they'll start to pet it and often slowly start to relax and start talking.

Courthouse Dogs wants to have canines in interview rooms and courthouses all over the world so people, even defendants, feel comfortable enough to tell their version of the story.

"I think it's revolutionizing this process," Ellen said. "I'm fairly confident this practice is here to stay and it will only grow."

Courtesy of Verizon
True

If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

More

A letter to the woman who told me to stay in my daughter's life after seeing my skin.

'I'm not a shiny unicorn. There are plenty of black men like me who love fatherhood.'

True
Fathers Everywhere

This article originally appeared on 06.15.16


To a stranger I met at a coffee shop a few years ago who introduced me to what my life as a parent would be like:

My "welcome to black fatherhood moment" happened five years ago, and I remember it like it happened yesterday.

I doubt you'll remember it, though — so let me refresh your memory.

Keep Reading Show less