When she arrives at the courthouse she scoops her leash into her mouth and walks through the metal detector. She knows the drill; she’s done it a hundred times.
This Lab mix visits courthouses across the country. Many courthouses hope to add a court dog to their staff.
Service dogs have served in hospitals, homes and therapy settings for decades, but courtrooms are a fairly new arena. Molly is one of more than 4000 dogs trained by California-based Canine Companions for Independence since they were founded in 1975. Of these, only 23 dogs work in the criminal justice system nationally.
County Attorney Lee Polikov wants a dog like Molly in Sarpy County’s court system and has begun the process to get one.
On a recent visit, Molly and her handlers visited with judges, attorneys, Sarpy County Board members and representatives from local law enforcement agencies to explain court dogs’ role in the judicial system.
Molly, the highly trained Labrador mix responds to between 50 and 60 commands. Victims and witnesses, particularly children, often spend time telling the dog to shake or fetch, among other things — it gives them control in a situation where most feel powerless. During interviews and court proceedings, the dogs sit or lie near victims and witnesses making them feel safe and secure.
Research shows that a dog’s presence lowers blood pressure and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
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