CALGARY—As two child witnesses take the stand in a Calgary courtroom this week, they will be comforted by a special four-legged support worker.
Hawk, the first-ever therapy dog to sit inside a Canadian courtroom, was there to comfort as a seven-year-old girl took the stand Tuesday, Dec. 2.
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, who is four years old, has been working as a therapy dog with the Calgary Police for one year.
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.
His handler, Sgt. Brent Hutt, says 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.”
The young boy and girl, who can’t be identified, met Hawk on numerous occasions before their testimony this week. Hutt said their interactions with the dog were “very positive.”
“Their reaction with him is typical of all the kids we interact with,” he said. “It brings a smile to their face, helps us have a conversation. No bad can come of it.”
Appearing in court through closed-circuit television, the little girl answered the lawyer’s questions, with Hawk lying beside her the entire time. Even when she became agitated, the dog never left her side.
Hutt said Hawk was more than ready for this new role, as his intuition can be trusted in all sorts of tense situations.
“I’ve had instances where he bypasses those people he would normally talk to and goes straight to the people who have been impacted. It’s truly amazing.”
The Crown prosecutor made an application to have Hawk in the courtroom this week, a request the defence lawyer and judge didn’t object to.
“There is an immediate trust that children have with these animals, something that they wouldn’t necessarily have with a court support person, even if they’ve met them before,” said Crown prosecutor Rosalind Greenwood. “With an animal, there’s an immediate trust there.”