WATCH: The prospect of having to testify in court is stressful for any victim, especially a child. In Calgary, a judge allowed a young girl to have a trauma dog at her side, as she took a stand in a sexual assault time. Reid Fiest reports on a Canadian first.
The halls of justice and Hawk the dog are coming together to make history. In a Canadian first, the trauma dog sat inside a Calgary courtroom, on the witness stand, supporting a witness giving testimony.
Sgt. Brent Hutt of the Calgary Police Service and his 4-year-old lab sat with a young girl and her brother in a sexual assault trial.
“So he’ll be there with the witness when they’re testifying, just to be there to offer that support,” said Hutt.
Alberta law allows for people to support vulnerable witnesses, but the courts made an exception to approve Hawk.
The accused’s lawyer, Alain Helpner had no objections. “It’s the atmosphere for the child… judges see it as a better atmosphere for the child and why wouldn’t they allow that,” he said.
There are three other trauma dogs in Canada, but none have been used in a courtroom setting.
The Pacific Assistance Dogs Society, based in Burnaby, B.C., trained and loaned Hawk to the Calgary Police Service.
The society’s Executive Director, Laura Watamanuk, hopes the Alberta Courts decision will change rules in other provinces.
“For anybody that is coming up if they’re in that type of situation, be it a victim of crime or a vulnerable witness, to have that available if they really want it would be a great asset,” said Watamanuk.
Support dogs in Canadian courts may be new, but across the United States the animals are widely used in the legal system to offer witness support.
“There’s no science to it,” said Hutt, describing his K9 partner. “He comes and he’s well trained, he’s obedient, and he sits and people pet him. It’s really that easy.”