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Therapy dog helps child testify in court

Therapy dog ‘Max’ relaxing with his favorite toy.
Therapy dog ‘Max’ relaxing with his favorite toy.

Prince George RCMP Victim Services therapy dog, Max, is once again breaking new ground in northern B.C.

Earlier this month, Max attended his first Supreme Court trial, providing support to a young witness testifying during a violent assault trial.

Max first began working at the courthouse earlier this year providing pre-trial support for witnesses and victims. He had his first case assisting a young child victim who was testifying via closed circuit television this past April.

When Krista Levar, coordinator for Prince George RCMP Victim Services and Max’s handler, was notified that Max would be part of a trial in an actual courtroom, an intensive training regime began. The training was led by Kirby MacInnes, owner of the therapy dog agency, Pawsitive Horizons. Children around the same age as the witness and several adult volunteers were utilized by MacInnes to simulate an actual trial in an unused courtroom to assist Max each day as he practiced his skills.

The witness, a nine-year-old girl, met Max several months ago when she was first witnessed the assault. She developed a good rapport with the therapy dog and was excited to have him with her as she took the stand.

He makes me feel safe, and I wasn’t as scared said the child after the first part of her testimony.

Throughout her testimony she reached down and patted Max and he would gaze back at her as she continued speaking. During the long waiting process between court sessions, the young client drew pictures of Max, made him do tricks, dressed him up in a shower cap and gave him a new name tag Chef Prince Max.

The Victim Services therapy dog program that was introduced in the community two years ago has been a great success with victims and witnesses of crime as well as within the police detachment itself. The Therapy Dog K-9 Crisis Unit consisting of Max, the calm interview saavy office and court hound and Grimmus, the on-scene specialist, have blended into the Prince George detachment with ease, grace and enthusiasm. Their roles continue to expand, grow and develop as we are seeing with Max in Supreme Court. The program, developed in partnership with Pawsitive Horizons, has been the topic of Levar’s thesis project which has since been published on the Canadian Federation of Animal Assisted Support Services’ website (www.cf4aass.org/victim-services.html) as an effective model for crisis therapy work with dogs.

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