“Working Like a Dog”

alf2Curious phrase, isn’t it? When we had dogs — two Border collies and Alfre (shown), a Retriever-Samoyed mix — I often looked at them and thought “that’s how I want to work — eat, nap, chase a few squirrels, nap, go for a walk, nap.”

Joking aside, who doesn’t admire service dogs? The Dec-Jan issue of the Washington State Bar Association journal, now called the NW Lawyer, introduced me to the concept of Courthouse Dogs. 49 dogs now work in 21 states and other locations, with add’l programs under development. The trained dogs may comfort a witness — they are particularly good for children testifying against abusers or witnesses with extreme anxiety. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the use of a “facility dog” in the courtroom in a burglary case, where the victim suffers from developmental disabilities and was extremely anxious about testifying. His own service dog accompanied him. The defense objected, arguing “undue prejudice,” compromise of the defendant’s right to confront his accuser, and an aura of sympathy. The Court found for the dog.

But the concerns about the effect on the right to a fair trial are legitimate. Courts have addressed them in several ways — influenced in part by experience with other types of service dogs in the courtroom. The dog may not need to be in the witness box; if it is, it’s typically not visible to the jury. Judges can give “cautionary instructions,” telling the jury not to consider the dog’s presence. And of course, defendants and their witnesses have the same rights to a dog’s presence as witnesses for the prosecution.

Can you use a service or facility dog, or an argument about one, in your story? How will your characters respond? These dogs bring comfort; how can you can use to add tension?


8 thoughts on ““Working Like a Dog”

  1. I recently read of a dog named Rosie who is used in New York to accompany terrified children in the witness box. I would love to read a novel with a courthouse dog as a character!

  2. My mind is working in that direction already – maybe in my next book that I just started. I have a full sized tri-color collie named Maggie. She’s a dog everyone seems to fall in love with. I think in the book version of My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, the lawyer had a border collie he used as a service dog, and to my recollection was allowed to have him in the courtroom. It’s been quite some years since I read it.

  3. I was so glad to read this both because I think it’s a fascinating subject, and because I have a special interest in service dogs. In my novel, Organized to Death, one of the characters is deaf and uses a service dog. Your post sparks a great idea (I think) of having the uncle in court with his dog, and another dog for a witness. Many, many readers are dog lovers, so I think their interest would be sparked every time a service dog works. Thanks, Leslie!

    • You’re welcome, Jan! Service dogs have always been allowed in courtrooms, of course, but I love the idea of a facility dog, a service dog trained to work with a variety of people in difficult situations. I’ve certainly seen instances where it could have helped tremendously.

Leave a Reply