For victims of violent crimes, time in court facing their perpetrators can be triggering, traumatic and exceedingly difficult. Reliving the experiences brings out anxieties and tensions that make testifying before judges, juries, lawyers and assaulters intimidating. The emotional vulnerability of these situations, especially for children, can seem at times insurmountable. But one small court in France has adopted an unusual method of bringing comfort into a daunting situation.
Since 2019, the rural courtroom in Cahors, a town in Southern France, has had more than just humans in the office. A Labrador retriever, amusingly named Lol, has been working alongside prosecutors, lawyers and other judicial staff. Lol attends court proceedings to offer comfort and support to victims who are there to testify against their aggressors. According BBC writer Chris Bockman, the criminal cases seen in this small, rural court are very predominantly ones of abuse. Victims of rape, domestic violence, burglary and all matters of violent crimes can lean on Lol to ease the tensions and anxieties that are undoubtedly heavy during these situations.
When Prosecutor Frédéric Almendros learned of a program being used in Seattle courts in the U.S. in which dogs were utilized in court, he opted to give the idea a try in his own courtrooms. Some lawyers were initially trepid to the idea of a dog in the courtroom, but it didn’t take Lol long to convince his human colleagues that he could and would become a welcome asset. He has assisted in moving cases forward, and when he isn’t busy in court, lawyers and court staff welcome his presence at work, petting him as he meanders through the building during his breaks.
Almendros will call on Lol if he believes the dog’s comforting presence is needed during court proceedings. Lol will sit beside the victims and nuzzle them, allowing his physical touch to reassure. It is as if Lol absorbs the anxieties and provides strength in these moments. Lol has reportedly been a part of 80 different investigations, assisting humans aged three to 90. Lol’s training taught him to remain calm with new people of all ages and in all types of emotional situations.
Family lawyer Mustapha Yassfy told BBC, “We believe in this programme, the dog has a specific role, he participates in the whole judicial process by bringing humanity to the legal system.” The success of Lol in the courtrooms has persuaded other courts around France to adopt this idea. By the end of 2021, an estimated 20 French courts are expected to have their own dogs on staff. There are even efforts now to push a bill through that would give animals an official legal status in the courts, which could provide financial support for training the court dogs.
For Lol, he is just happy to be involved. His job is an important one, and his value to his colleagues and the victims he helps unmatched. And as far as coworkers go, it’s hard to imagine one better.