Courthouse Dog Training In Hawaii

Animal Offers Comfort To Young Victims

 UPDATED 6:45 AM HST Nov 09, 2010
HONOLULU -

Getting children to talk when they don't want to, can be very difficult. Especially when the children are victims of crime.

But now man's best friend may be one of the best ways to get these young victims to open up.

Criminal justice systems around the country are using canines to coax children to talk, when those kids are reluctant to do so. And now the first courthouse dog is being trained in Hawaii.

Courtrooms can be an emotional place. When children have to testify over sexual abuse or as witnesses to domestic violence those emotions can be overwhelming, making it difficult for them to even talk.

But in the future, island children could get help from four legged friends like Pono, a courthouse dog.

"What they do is provide affection for children. While they are talking about what has happened they curl up next to the child and offer support. They just relax them enough to go through this experience," said Ellen O'Neill-Stephens, of Courthouse Dogs.

"In an interview room or courtroom with a child the dog would be a comfort, be a presence, and not be distracting," said Maureen Maurer, of Hawaii Canines For Independence.

Pono has been undergoing months of training to respond to commands from kids, who can also pet her and hold her leash. Which, some feel, gives children a chance to regain control after their abuse and intrusion by police, case workers and prosecutors.

"The child's life is turned upside down. It's got all these strangers coming in so having a dog there can bring them a sense of control, some peace when its chaotic," said Joseph Bloom, with the Children's Alliance of Hawaii.

Many people have already seen the benefits of therapy dogs like Tucker, who works at Kapiolani Medical Center.

Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro is looking at starting up the Courthouse Dogs program on Oahu. "I am in favor of anything that helps victims, especially child victims, through the difficult process of testifying in court and presenting evidence at trial," said Kaneshiro.

In the future, Pono could be called in to help island children as they make their way through all phases of Hawaii's criminal justice system, from initial interviews to the conclusion of the case. But now, Pono has another six months of training before she will be ready to take on that role full-time.

For more information on the Courthouse Dogs program go to www.courthousedogs.com.

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