Imagine you are the victim of a serious crime and you now have to relive that awful moment you were victimized, recalling every detail, reliving all the pain, emotionally traumatized and so very vulnerable, as you tell the police officers and prosecutors exactly what happened to you. It is now time to testify in court and face the person who wronged you, share the same room, breathe the same air and relive your nightmare once again.
If only you had some source of comfort to help calm your nerves and relieve some of the anxiety you feel. As you sit in the witness chair in front of the courtroom and face that awful person who you fear to even look at, your hand falls to your side and you feel soft fur between your fingertips. When you look down, you see the warm and loyal eyes of a dog staring at you. A special dog at your feet to comfort you and aid you through your testimony, just as that dog was trained to do. As you stroke his fur and feel his warm head against you, you somehow find the courage to give your testimony because he is there, comforting you and making you feel protected.
Now imagine a small child in your same position, a helpless and innocent child who was the victim of unspeakable abuse. That child also has a special dog there at her feet, to comfort and make her feel safe.
Illinois could soon become one of the few states to allow specially trained dogs to comfort witnesses in the courtroom. The bill was approved by Legislature and is now before the governor.
Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim already uses a yellow Labrador retriever to comfort children during their interviews with prosecutors. Attorney Nerheim and his dog support the bill. If the bill passes, Illinois will only be the third with such a law allowing dogs in the courtroom.
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