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Therapy dog calming companion at trial

When a nine-year-old girl had to testify at a B.C. Supreme Court trial earlier this month, a furry-tail wagging friend was at her side.
therapy dog
Krista Levar with Max, who is an RCMP Victim Services therapy dog.

When a nine-year-old girl had to testify at a B.C. Supreme Court trial earlier this month, a furry-tail wagging friend was at her side.

Max, an eight-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever and trained therapy dog, has become an old hand at easing the stress for victims of crime as they wait to take to the stand.

But it was the first time he had stepped inside a courtroom during an actual trial.

The week before, Krista Levar, the dog's handler and the Prince George RCMP's victim services coordinator, took Max and the girl to the courtroom to get them familiarized with the surroundings. With the help of some volunteers, they simulated what it's like during an actual trial.

By the time he was by the girl's side at the trial, Max was ready.

"He's trained to pick up on the energy in the room," Levar said. "When it was actually happening, everybody was a bit more intense because of the emotional stress level, but he just sat there and the little girl would pet him as she was testifying and he would gaze back at her. It was wonderful."

The girl first met Max in January when she gave a statement to police and a relationship had developed since then. She taught Max commands in German and made name tags for him.

"Seeing him again was a treat," Levar said.

Children usually testify via closed-circuit television and Max's appearance in a courtroom during a trial was a first for Prince George, although another therapy dog had previously appeared in a Surrey courtroom.

In the U.S., the program has reached the point that therapy dogs can accompany adults into the courtroom when needed, Levar said.