June 17, 2014
Service dogs help their owners overcome challenges every day, and now one canine is offering comfort to witnesses in the courtroom in Albemarle County.
"Theo is our new courthouse dog. He will be assisting in interviews of both victims and witnesses both here in our office and at the police department to help the victims feel more comfortable with the process in the criminal justice system, and with the interviews," said Commonwealth Attorney Denise Lunsford.
Lunsford said she had heard of other courthouse canines in the Commonwealth and reached out to Service Dogs of Virginia for help to get one in Albemarle Co. Peggy Law, executive director of Service Dogs of Va. had initially trained Theo to assist someone in a wheelchair.
"He has skills like opening doors, picking up things that somebody dropped, so he's very versatile in the things he knows how to do," said Law.
Dogs like Theo have already been used in courts around the country when victims of sexual assault or abuse take the stand. Recently in New York, a court dog quietly one sat at the feet of a 15-year-old rape victim, giving her the courage to testify.
"Oftentimes it's the worst thing that has happened to them in their lives, so having an animal that can sort of clam and help them," said Lunsford.
Theo comes at no cost to taxpayers. The placement fee was paid for with assets seized from drug crimes in Albemarle Co.