Courtroom Dogs for Child Witnesses

By DREW PETRIMOULX | dpetrimoulx@kark.com

Published 08/14 2014 10:50PM

Updated 08/15 2014 08:10AM

CONWAY, AR - When Matthew Burnside’s 14-year-old victim sat on the witness stand to tell her story, she was all alone.

Her testimony put Burnside away for 100 years, but Faulkner County Prosecutor Cody Hiland says cases like that take their toll.

“They have to articulate certain things that are very private, very intimate that are going to be difficult for two people to talk about much, much less a child in front of 12 strangers and the person that did this to them,” says Hiland. “She made it through unbelievably courageous testimony, but just difficult to face your attacker.”

To make the processes a little easier, Hiland wants child victims to have a friend in the courtroom.

The Courthouse Dogs Foundation is a nonprofit from Washington state with 70 service dogs working across 25 states.  

"We train legal professionals, lawyers, judges, police officers, victim advocates, forensic interviewers how to get these dogs and how to use them to help their clients,” explains Celeste Walsen, Executive Director for the foundation. 

She says law enforcement has rave reviews wherever the dogs are used. "People who are very stressed out feel much calmer and able to take an active part in the legal process when there’s a dog there." 

Hiland wants to bring the first courtroom dog to Arkansas -- giving child victims taking the stand a K9 in their corner. 

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