Thursday, December 4, 2014

Calgary dog comforts witnesses during court session

Michelle Zilio, CTVNews

As two child witnesses re-live some of their most horrific memories in a Calgary courtroom this week, they will be comforted by a special four-legged support worker.

Hawk, one of the first-ever therapy dogs to sit inside a Canadian courtroom, was there to comfort as a seven-year-old girl took the stand Tuesday, instinctively knowing when a head on the lap or a snuggle was needed.

The girl is testifying against her father who has been accused of sexually abusing her. Her nine-year-old brother will also eventually testify, with the black Labrador retriever by his side as well.

Hawk -- four years old and 76 pounds -- has been working as a therapy dog with the Calgary Police for one year. He even has a badge. For Calgary Police officer Sgt. Brent Hutt, Hawk possesses a number of important qualities that help reduce victims’ anxiety.

“He is extremely low energy. He loves people,” said Hutt. “People can be crying and screaming or in some cases getting relatively aggressive with him when they’re petting him. It doesn’t faze him.”

To date, Hawk has worked with sexual-assault victims and those who have lost loved ones in traffic accidents and homicide cases, including the families of the five young people stabbed to death at a Calgary house party last April.

This week marked one of the first times a therapy dog played a support role in a Canadian courtroom, a “huge” and “fantastic” step for the dog and Calgary Police, said Hutt.

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