Clients in need of family law counsel can find themselves being emotionally drained. Even happy events, like adoptions, can be a bit overwhelming. Whether you’re dealing with your ex, or fighting for your kids, or simply stressed out from the day-to-day difficulties of going through a divorce. Sometimes, you just need something soft and safe to hold.

In our office, that means teaming up with Stella Miller, who helps our family law clients through some pretty hard moments in their lives. She gets a lot of satisfaction from doing her job (and from some gentles scratches behind the ears), but there’s a new Big Dawg in town.

Fur-ocious emotional support

The nonprofit organization, Courthouse Dogs Foundation, was created with a simple, but important, mission in mind: to assist individuals going through traumatic experiences or who have special needs while providing testimony or giving interviews in legal civil and criminal legal matters. These canine miracle workers offer tremendous emotional support by helping to alleviate anxiety and bolster the confidence of witnesses so that they can focus on providing credible evidence.

Team training

Courthouse dogs fall under the category of “Facility Dogs,” which are a subset of carefully screened, trained assistance dogs. They are part of a team that includes a human handler who the dog lives with full time. The primary handler receives intensive training on how to handle the dog in public and care for the dog for its lifetime at work and home.

These dogs are required to master basic obedience skills by responding to voice and/or hand signals for sitting, staying in place, lying down, walking in a controlled position near the facilitator and coming to the facilitator when called. In addition, the Facility Dog has to be comfortable interacting with all types of people, including those with physical and/or developmental disabilities.

To graduate and be certified as a facility dog team, the dog and handler must pass the same test for public safety used for certified service dogs.

Where they work

Courthouse dogs can be found working in various capacities all over the United States, Canada, Chile, Australia, and Europe. With 224 dogs across 40 states, Tennessee has the privilege of having eight locations where these furry little saviors, all trained by Canine Companions for Independence, are helping people every day:

  • Sumner Children’s Advocacy Center, Gallatin
  • 19th Judicial District Attorney, Clarksville
  • 23rd District Child Advocacy Center, Charlotte
  • Children’s Center of the Cumberlands
  • Junior’s House Child Advocacy Center, Fayetteville
  • Madison County Juvenile Court Services, Jackson
  • Jackson Police Department, Jackson
  • Williamson County CASA, Franklin

Legal environments can be versatile, so it’s important that these pups be present in various settings in order to be helpful. Courthouse dogs are used in child advocacy centers, forensic interviews, defense interviews, courtrooms, specialty courts, and in guardian ad litem programs. Handlers include victim advocates, forensic interviewers, detectives, prosecuting attorneys, Guardians Ad Litem, therapists, and other professionals.

Because these dogs have such an important job, which includes blending into the background in order not to disrupt the legal process when used to assist witnesses giving courtroom testimony, the dog enters and leaves with the witness outside the view of the jury.

You will recognize a facility dog by his or her laminated photo ID card containing the names of the dog and partner. In public the dog must wear a cape, harness, backpack, or other equipment or clothing with a logo clearly signifying that he or she is an Assistance Dog.

Stella may have been the first, but we are so happy that there are trained Facility Dogs to assist people throughout Tennessee. After all, Stella is needed here, where she helps us all do the important work of protecting you when you need it the most.

Being involved in the legal process can be stressful for anyone. Our attorneys work to provide you with helpful resources to get you through the tough spots while we fight for your legal rights in your case. Partner with a determined and compassionate Nashville family law attorney at Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC. To reserve an in-person or video consultation, call our office at 615-454-9899, or reach out to us through our contact page.