The country's first court dog, Louie, has received the ultimate seal of approval since he started comforting young witnesses in Tauranga trials.
Justice Minister Amy Adams visited the city yesterday to meet the friendly 8-year-old labrador and hear all about the difference Louie had made in the short time he had been relaxing victims and witnesses.
His new role began when owner and courts victim adviser Gail Bryce looked for additional support for two traumatised young people who were about to give evidence in court.
Straight away Louie had gone over to one of the girls and put his head in her lap.
This example of the empathy a dog can feel for someone suffering anxiety had convinced Ms Adams about the importance dogs could have in court processes.
"I can see what an amazing difference it makes," she said.
Louie had already proved himself a loveable winner in hospitals and rest homes, she said, so relaxing young victims waiting to give evidence in the witness waiting room was a doggie doddle.
Ms Adams, who has had a lifelong love of dogs, said court dogs were a creative and innovative solution for calming victims and making the court process easier.
"Good on you for making it work because the value is so apparent," she told Mrs Bryce. Ms Adams said it was a coincidence the day she heard about Louie because she had just seen a Facebook page about the beneficial influence dogs were having in America's justice system.
"I am really excited by the potential of court dogs. I am looking at a whole raft of ways to make it easier for child witnesses," she said.
She had vowed to explore the introduction of dogs into other courts, and even to put them into courtroom witness boxes rather than in the witness waiting rooms. "If it makes witnesses feel stronger and more supportive, why wouldn't we," Ms Adams said.
That would include putting comfort dogs in with children in CCTV witness boxes.
"It is still scary, even if it is CCTV."
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