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Courthouse Dogs Trained To Calm Testifying Victims of Violence

Matthew Streib
Natalie DeFord records Molly the courthouse dog as she plays in Bellevue with Courthouse Dogs cofounder Celeste Walsen.

Giving evidence in court can increase feelings of trauma, especially for young abuse victims. But in many courtrooms, there are now dogs to help.

Silent and hidden, they provide victims warm, soft comfort as they testify. Veterinarian Celeste Walsen and retired prosecutor Ellen O’Neil­-Stephens teamed up to launch the Bellevue­-based Courthouse Dogs Foundation in 2008.

The organization promotes the benefits of a dog’s company while testifying – namely the feelings of calmness it prompts. So they started to pair police and prosecutors across the country with specially trained dogs that can offer comfort without damaging the process.

One such team is Kitsap County deputy prosecuting attorney Kevin Kelly and his dog, Kerris. Kelly says kids will clam up when interviewed by strange adults, but talk to Kerris like a close friend.

The program has matched about 100 such teams across the country and has begun to grow internationally.

This story is part of the KPLU-PLU student reporting project.