Monday, 21 October 2013

Woolf provides calming effect for kids testifying in court

Sitting two rows back in the courtroom, an astute visitor during the recent testimony of an abused little boy might have caught sight of the tips of two furry, white ears poking over the top railing of the witness box.

And maybe once in a while that little boy's hand may have snaked down to stroke the big head between those two ears belonging to Woolf, a silent, watchful fellow there to help the 6yr old get through the recitation of the sex acts to which he was subjected.

Woolf, a large all-white shepherd-husky mix with startling blue eyes, is a familiar sight in a number of Lake County schools. He goes to classrooms with Missy Ziler as part of the READing Paws Program, short for Reading Education Assistance Dogs.

His reputation for quiet support is what prompted a Lake prosecutor to ask Missy whether Woolf might help in the case where two boys, ages 6 and 7, were to testify against their father. The younger child ended up testifying with Woolf from an empty courtroom by Skype and the older one had the dog at his feet while he told his story.

That was the point where she decided to create Companions for Courage, a nonprofit organization designed to prevent children from having to face the anxiety of court testimony alone. Missy is looking for other dogs that might help Woolf with the chores. They would have to be very quiet, willing to lay still in a witness box and not cause any distraction in court. No dogs on laps.

Lake Circuit Judge Bill Law, who allowed Woolf to help in the abuse case, said he has seen dogs in the courtroom a few times and is willing to allow them access in the future.

"It's a bit of new thinking," Law said. "Obviously, the dog can't tell somebody how to testify and doesn't have an effect on truthfulness, but it has a calming effect."

Source: Orlando Sentinel 

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