Black Labradors Dozer and Lupe were sworn in at the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office Friday, making the courthouse the first in Southern California to provide dogs for children who testify in criminal cases.
With their paws on a book of California criminal law, the pups became the first members of the District Attorney's new Special Victims K-9 unit, and will be able to take the stand alongside children who have been victims or witnesses of crime.
"We find it empowering for the child to hold the leash, so we hand the child the leash and then we're still in the line of sight of the dog, so we'll be sitting behind it," said Dozer’s handler, Yesica Cioli. "The leash sometimes is enough, but if he needs to reach down and pet, he's right in arm's reach."
The black Lab have the same training as assistance dogs, but were specifically chosen for use in courtrooms because they have especially calm demeanors.
"They have the ability to lie here very quietly in a witness box and be virtually invisible to the jury," said Ellen O'Neill Stephens, a former prosecutor and the founder of Courthouse Dogs, an organization that trains service dogs to comfort victims of crime who must testify in court.
Courthouse Dogs is based in Washington state, but trained prosecutors from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office in preparation for Dozer and Lupe joining the staff.
Stephens said scientific research shows interaction with calm dogs can help people cope in traumatic situations.
"It lowers their blood pressure and raises oxytocin levels," she said.
And while the dogs will help victims seek justice with compassion, they don't ask for much in return.
"You just go hug them, love them, and that’s all they are expecting," Cioli said. "Maybe a treat or two but other than that, you’re good."