- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

LIHUE, Hawaii (AP) - The Kauai Office of the Prosecuting Attorney has added a new member to its team to provide emotional support for victims and witnesses in the courtroom.

Ollie the courthouse dog joined the office Tuesday and Deputy Prosecutor Joanne Sheng will be his handler, The Garden Island reported (http://bit.ly/1NrlAJQ).

“The criminal justice system can be brutal. It can be a place of great emotional stress. The adversarial process can make that even worse and going through that process can be emotionally damaging,” said Courthouse Dogs Founder Ellen O’Neill-Stephens. “When these dogs are present, they dial down the emotional stress and give people a positive association with the process.”

Ollie was trained by Assistance Dogs of Hawaii to help victims and witnesses feel comfortable telling their stories in court.

Ollie is able to rest his head on a person’s lap and put his paws on someone’s leg to offer support, Sheng said.

Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said Ollie will be of service in all court proceedings, including at trials and motion hearings.

To detract from potential legal problems that could arise when dealing with the animals, O’Neill-Stephens said the dogs are trained to lie in the witness box for hours outside jurors’ view.

“We don’t want the presence of the dog to create legal issues, particularly in criminal cases,” she said. “We have the witness and the dog enter the courtroom outside the presence of the jury and then the jury comes in and the witness testifies and then the jury goes out and they leave.”

Ollie, who was trained at the Assistance Dogs of Hawaii campus on Maui, is one of more than 100 courthouse facility dogs in 31 states. Hawaii’s dogs can be found in prosecutor offices on Oahu and the Big Island.

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Information from: The Garden Island, http://thegardenisland.com/

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