What better venue for the 2014 International Courthouse Dogs Conference than the courtroom of the King County Superior Court presiding judge? The conference, which took place October 27-28, was organized by the Bellevue-based Courthouse Dogs Foundation. It was geared toward the growing numbers of agencies and independent professionals that employ facility dogs in prosecutors' offices, child advocacy centers and other settings in the legal system.
There were human attendees from 27 states and Washington, D.C., as well as Canada, Finland, Japan and Spain. In addition, 13 trained facility dogs attended the conference with their handlers. Also present were two service dogs and two assistance puppies in training.
Anyone with an interest was welcome though, and lawyers attending received CLE credit. Although I have attended many informative CLEs, few have been inspiring as well. The success of these highly trained dogs in comforting crime victims and witnesses and enabling them to tell their stories is truly remarkable.
Also inspiring is the growth of what is now the Courthouse Dogs Foundation from an "Aha!" moment in 2003 to a renowned organization that has just put on its second international conference. Along the way, Courthouse Dogs has helped start programs in 25 states and three foreign countries, established standards and guidelines to ensure the success of those programs, helped make law, and garnered accolades. Above all, the Foundation has made good on its motto "Promoting Justice with Compassion."
Courthouse Dogs Are "Facility Dogs"
Courthouse Dogs founder Ellen O'Neill-Stephens and Executive Director Celeste Walsen, along with their canine partner Molly B, train people to start and operate programs for the use of facility dogs. Facility dogs are not service animals - their role is not to assist an individual with a disability, for example. They work at a facility.
A facility dog is a graduate of an assistance dog organization that is a member of Assistance Dogs International. The dog is handled by professionals working in the legal system. A facility dog's role is to assist professional humans in doing their work at a courthouse, child advocacy center or a police department, and the dogs are bred, selected and trained for that role.
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