I wish it never had to happen, but due to different circumstances, children can find themselves in the position of attending a court to testify. Aware of what this implies on a psychological level for a minor , the Madrid courts have implemented a program of accompaniment with dogs , a technique that helps to humanize the process and reduce the anxiety caused by this type of situation.
We have all read the great benefits that these animals provide when they are trained and actively participate in therapies. In the case of children, we have seen them work to minimize the pain and anxiety that hospitalization produces , to reduce the stress caused by certain traumatic situations or even as an aid when it comes to motivating children with learning difficulties or with autism . That is why it is not surprising that now they want to transfer all these results to experiences that can become traumatic, such as passing through a court. Educate a child without limits and you will have a tyrant child at home.
We talked about this initiative with Vanessa Carral Portilla , a health and educational psychologist and co-director of Dogtor Animal , a company with a high social content specialized in animal-assisted interventions since 2009 and which currently works hand in hand with the courts of the Community of Madrid.
What is the protocol that is followed when we want to request the escort service?
The action protocol once the service is requested for a minor consists of four phases:
- Phase 1 – In the waiting room : at this moment the boy or girl who is waiting without knowing what is going to happen, entering a spiral of anxiety and stress, sees the support dog appear and, from there, we redirect those negative emotions and focus on this new accomplice who will accompany you throughout the process.
The child will be able to hug the dog, which can surprise him with her abilities and which generally makes the child smile, generating a bond of unconditional support and a slightly more relaxed atmosphere.
- Phase 2 – Road to the Interview : At the moment in which the judicial professional takes the child on the way to the place of the interview, he takes the leash of his new friend. He thus feels accompanied.
- Phase 3 – During the interview : at this time the support dog becomes a facilitator when it comes to obtaining the information required by the judicial professional. For this, direct contact with the dog is facilitated, allowing them to sit together on a sofa and with the dog lying down with its head resting on the child’s lap while the latter responds to the questions raised by the judicial professional. It is common to observe how the little ones do not stop petting the support dog while they are asked, since it is a way of externalizing the stress that this implies. The judicial support dog becomes an emotional cushion.
- Phase 4 – Farewell : Once the professional has finished, it is important to generate a positive situation in the minor and leave behind memories and sensations relived during the interview, so we again carry out some playful activity to divert attention towards a more pleasant activity with the objective that the little one leaves with a “good taste in his mouth” . The support dog will remain accessible to the minor for as long as it is required.
The mission of this resource is to make minors involved in judicial proceedings visible and to be able to generalize it to all the courts that require it. We highlight the great work that has been entrusted to our animals and ultimately it is, to say the least, curious that a dog is in charge of humanizing this entire process.
What kind of training do the dogs have?
The training of support dogs for minors in courts is complex and requires a professional trained for this purpose. For this reason, the fundamental steps that are followed are:
- Correct selection of the individual : races are not sought, but a specific subject. This selection can be made as a puppy or with adult dogs.
- Correct socialization (in the case of puppies): to noises, smells, floors, types of people, etc.
- Training in basic obedience : call, sitting, lying down, still, etc.
- Skills training : amazing things like walking backwards, fetch objects or making the croquette. The entire training process is done with a respectful and positive methodology,
respecting the ethology of the judicial support animal. Dogs that enjoy human company in all its aspects are sought, so any type of relationship between dog and human must be nurtured from the bond and mutual trust.
How is this service requested and how much does it cost?
The service is requested by judicial professionals both from the psycho-social teams of the courts and from the Victim Assistance Office .
Support dogs for minors in courts are part of a process
of humanizing justice from the perspective of putting the victim at the center and favoring Restorative or Therapeutic Justice.
This service is implemented in some Courts of the Community of Madrid and has no cost for families, being financed by the administration.