Alabama to train dogs to comfort victims testifying in court, interviewed by authorities

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MONTGOMERY, Al (WIAT) – Alabama’s Office of Prosecution Services announced they’re adding more specially trained facility dogs to assist victims of crime, especially children, when they testify in court or are interviewed by investigators.

“A victim of a crime is not prepared to be a victim, it’s just something that happens to them,” said Kenny Davis. 

Russell County County District Attorney Kenny Davis says these dogs have made a huge difference for victims.  

“They meet the dog, they get used to the dog. they are used to having the dog with them when they tell their story,” said Judge Jimmy Pool. 

Back in 2017, the Alabama Legislature passed what’s called “Willow’s Law”, it’s what allows these dogs to come to court.

6-year-old Willow knows how to play hide-n-seek,  turn pages in books and most of all provide comfort.

Willow is a facility dog, well-trained to be a calming presence for traumatized victims. She is at their feet when they must replay to the court or investigators the painful, heartbreaking stories of their physical or sexual assault. Most often, these are children who need a friendly, furry companion to feel relaxed enough to open up about the horrors they experienced.

Willow is the first dog in Alabama entrusted with and trained to handle such responsibility.

“The training starts at birth,” Tamara Martin, special projects coordinator for the state’s Office of Prosecution Services and Willow’s five-year pal and handler, said of the process facility dogs go through before being certified for court. “They are conditioned to handle the stress, loud noises and things other dogs would consider threatening. They are trained to associate certain sounds with pleasure rather than sounds they should be afraid of.”

“Coming to court sometimes makes it all the more difficult to face that abuser, these guys make it better,” said Gill Lee. 

These are places that currently have facility dogs: Montgomery, Clanton, Dothan, Huntsville and Phenix City.

Shelby and Lauderdale Counties will get dogs in August.

This program is possible through a $700,000 grant from the governor’s office.

The program is named Helping Every Survivor Realize Their Opportunity and Strength – or HERO.

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