'Top Dogs' help abused children lose their fear of courtrooms
Therapy dogs are helping child victims prepare to testify in court against their abusers.
During the therapy sessions‚ the dogs are placed in designated roles typically found in a court room like a judge or attorneys. The dogs are dressed in uniforms of the role that they are filling as this creates familiarity for the child.
“They get to recognise who is who in the court and makes them feel more comfortable and enables them to tell their stories‚” said Teddy Bear Foundation Director of Clinical Services Shaheda Omar.
The initiative is a partnership between the foundation and the Top Dog Organisation.
Omar said the programme hosts one mock court session a month but the amount of preparatory sessions required varies from child to child based on their circumstances.
“Children are often scared of courts and the dogs reduce their stress levels‚ you can see it because they begin to talk more and the dogs help the children to express themselves‚” said Top Dogs vice-president Conor Hughes.
The organisation has approximately 100 privately owned dogs‚ to provide voluntary services in Gauteng.
“The dogs need to be well mannered and obedient to be therapy dogs and they undergo the K9 good citizen qualification and we use that as a basis of evaluation‚” said Hughes.
The volunteer based organisation also provides companionship by sharing the dogs with those in hospitals‚ care facilities‚ other institutions such as schools and wherever else the therapy dogs are needed.
The Teddy Bear Foundation has conducted close to 800 court preparation sessions between October 2015 and May 2017. Of the cases that went to court‚ 33 resulted in imprisonment and 10 life sentences.