The 7-year-old girl sat in a witness room, out of sight of the father who had abused her, and told the court the “secret” of her father’s sexual assault. Beside her was the pal who eased her fears as she spoke her horrifying truth.
The girl’s pal was Hawk, a Labrador retriever who works with Calgary, Alberta’s victim assistance unit. This kind of service dog is new in Canada. The Calgary trial was the first time a trauma dog had been allowed to participate in a court proceeding. His handler, Sgt. Brent Hutt, told the CBC:
“It is amazing the intuition that they have, truly. I’ve seen him walk into a room, bypass people that he knows…and go to the victim and curl up with ‘them’. It blows people away.”
Dogs have comforted and assisted traumatized children in American courts since at least 2003. In a 2011 story on philly.com, Emille Lounsberry wrote about three young boys waiting to testify in a difficult family case. The children looked so small and anxious.
“Then along came Maggie, a miniature poodle that dances on command. She wagged her tail, did her jig, and parked herself in front of the brothers for a petting.
“The grownups watched the impossible happen: The children began smiling.”
Testifying in court, in the terrifying world of broken and hurting families, would be difficult for any child. Trauma dogs cannot heal the families, but they can comfort children, and adults, whose lives have been turned upside down. They are yet another example of the compassion animals often show to the humans around them.