Victim Support Dog Ranger’s first time supporting a domestic violence survivor was at a pretrial hearing. 360 Communities had been working with Veronica for years. It was an ongoing situation and it was intensely stressful and emotional for the client. When she would recount the violence, she would often be overtaken with emotion and start to hyperventilate. She couldn’t say anything because the experience was so difficult for her. This would be her first time in a courtroom and her abuser was going to be in the room.
“The act of being in the courtroom, being where the offender was – it was too much for her at that point in her life,” says Outreach Advocate Stacie Burke, “And so I thought this was a good opportunity for Ranger to make a difference.” Studies have shown that the simple act of petting an animal lowers blood pressure and encourages well-being. Stacie brought Veronica into a conference room to meet with prosecutors and to prepare her for what was going to happen in the courtroom.
She began sharing her story and Ranger put his head in her lap. She was crying and starting to lose her breath, as she began patting Ranger on the head. “At first her movements were very stiff – kind of heavy-handed. As she was petting him, his head was bobbing up and down because of how aggressive it was,” says Burke, “But the more she was petting him, the more relaxed her body language became. Her breathing started to slow down she was able to control her emotions and clearly communicate what she wanted.”
Veronica was able to go into court that day with Ranger. As she sat in the courtroom, he laid down on her feet, applying pressure to help ground her in the moment. When she saw the offender enter the room, she was able to stay focused on the present and not be overcome with memories of her abuse. Veronica made it through that hearing with Ranger’s support. “It has been such a help to have Ranger in the courtroom,” says Burke, “While I cannot speak to clients while court is in session, Ranger is able to communicate to them that it is going to be okay.”
Since working with Veronica, Ranger has supported dozens of survivors of domestic and
sexual abuse. Ranger’s position with 360 Communities has been made possible by generous
community contributions. If you would like to support our innovative violence prevention and intervention work, please donate here.