Meet the canine helping people through court
When China the black labrador bursts through the Sutherland Court House doors, she brings light and happiness into what is mostly an intense and stressful environment.
The two-and-a-half-year-old therapy Guide Dog has become a welcome fixture at the courthouse as part of the Canine Court Companion Program.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT CEO Dale Cleaver said the organisation started working with the NSW Government on the program after a successful Australian-first trial at Manly Local Court in 2017.
"We know that the presence of a dog can help calm people and lower anxiety, and it's wonderful to see our therapy dogs doing this at 10 courthouses across NSW," Mr Cleaver said.
China's owner and handler Fiona Lamont said helping victims and witnesses manage the trauma of the court system was China's calling in life.
"This is what she was born to do, without a doubt in my mind," Ms Lamont said.
"When we go to court, she just runs straight in now. She doesn't wait in line like she's meant to.
"We get her coat on and that's when work time starts. Then she just takes herself around and stops at people as they need it."
While the dogs are not permitted in the actual court rooms, they spend time in the publicly accessible areas and domestic violence safe rooms.
"China is very in tune with people's emotions, especially when anybody is visibly upset," Ms Lamont said.
"On AVO (apprehended violence order) days at court, there is a safe room or quiet room for victims of abuse or those who have needed to take an AVO out on someone.
"They're usually quite distraught so the dogs will provide entertainment and put a smile on people's faces."
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Thanks to everyone who joined us at the @SydneyMardiGras Fair Day on the weekend! Brittany and Vera did a pawesome job at our demonstrations and we loved meeting everyone at our photobooth 🐾 #GuideDogsNSWACT⠀ ⠀ [Image description: A collection of images of the Guide Dog demonstrations and attendees at the photobooth]
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman has been integral in the success and growth of the program.
"As Attorney-General, I piloted the trial at Manly Court and it was a howling success with an almost unanimous endorsement of the program there from court users, court employees and workers," Mr Speakman said.
"For many people who aren't regular court users, it's a formal process that can be often very daunting.
"People are revisiting their trauma and can become re-traumatised by having to tell their stories about what has brought them to court.
"There is evidence from overseas studies that shows when calm witnesses are calmer and more relaxed, they give more reliable and credible evidence."
Mr Speakman - who owns 13-year-old Labrador Ralph and four-year-old golden retriever Lucy - said other states would be "barking mad" if they chose not to adopt the program.