A program allowing therapy dogs to visit courthouses to help victims of crime will continue permanently.
The nine-month pilot program was tested at Manly Courthouse in an effort to provide increased emotional support to victims attending court.
The program has now been permanently implemented, with therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers visiting the courthouse four mornings each week on a rotating monthly roster.
Mahashini Krishna, NSW Commissioner of Victims Rights, believes in the success of the new program and the many benefits that the therapy dogs can provide to victims in court.
“[The dogs] reduce their anxiety, to assist them going through court for what could be quite a stressful situation for people, especially those who are not used to doing something like this.”
Delta Society, a national not-for-profit organisation specializing in a Therapy Dogs volunteer program, is responsible for the recruitment of volunteers and their dogs as well as the coordination of the program at Manly Court.
...You could see their eyes light up. You can just see their whole body relax and they start smiling.
Prior to recruitment for any therapy dog program, the staff at Delta Society conduct a range of tests to assess the dog’s temperament and friendliness, the first of which is a simple pat test.
Sue Winn, a Delta Society volunteer, takes part in the Manly program twice a month with her eleven-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Fleur, and has seen the direct impact that a therapy dog can have on a victim in court.
“The place where they really make all the difference is in the safe room. The dogs have a real impact on victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, especially women and children, who can at times be petrified of speaking about their experience or giving evidence.”
Jacinthe Brosseau, the Sydney Therapy Dogs Branch Coordinator for Delta Society, manages recruitment for the Manly program and regularly keeps in touch with the volunteers.
“They’re giving up their time to give a bit of doggy joy to people.”
On a recent visit to the courthouse, Ms Brosseau observed the impact of one volunteer therapy dog.
“I’ve seen firsthand, when I was walking with a volunteer and their dog, someone who was waiting and looking very, very anxious and then the dog approached and you could see their eyes light up. You can just see their whole body relax and they start smiling.”
Showing such positive results in its early stages, Delta Society hopes to expand the program to allow other local courts to witness the benefits of therapy dogs.