Cherokee Judicial Circuit Courthouse Dog

Introducing Pilgrim III

On Monday, February 15, 2016, the District Attorney’s Office began using a facility dog to aid victims and witnesses of crime in reducing their stress and anxiety as they work through the criminal justice system. 

 Pilgrim, a two year old black Labrador/Golden Retriever cross has had two years of socialization and training to succeed in providing comfort to people impacted by the stress of being involved in the investigation and prosecution of crimes.

 On February 12, 2016 after two weeks of intensive team training, Victim Assistance Director, Julia Richards and her facility dog, Pilgrim graduated from the Canine Companions for Independence (Canine Companions) regional training center in Orlando, Florida. Unlike a service dog that assists a person with disabilities, or pet therapy dogs that visit people with their owners, Ms. Richards’ courthouse facility dog is a working professional who accompany's her to work every day to provide silent comfort and support to children and other vulnerable people. 

 The facility dog placed by Canine Companions to work at the Cherokee Judicial Circuit is the first such placement in the State of Georgia. There are currently ninety-eight courthouse dogs working in thirty-one states.

 Canine Companions for Independence is the oldest and largest assistance dog organization in the country. With over forty years of experience, Canine Companions breeds, raises and trains these extraordinary working dogs. They also provide two weeks of intensive training to the handler and ongoing oversight of the team during the course of their working career together. Canine Companions assistance dogs are all provided free of charge, though costs exceed $50,000.00 to breed, raise, train and provide ongoing support.

 With funds obtained through a grant from the Willcox-Lumpkin Foundation, February 29th - March 1st, retired senior deputy prosecuting attorney Ellen O’Neill-Stephens and veterinarian Celeste Walsen of the Courthouse Dogs Foundation came to Cartersville to educate judges, lawyers, law enforcement and staff about how to incorporate a facility dog into our practice without creating legal issues and in a manner that is fair for both district and defense attorneys.  When courthouse dogs bestow a sense of calm to witnesses, they facilitate the fact finding process because a composed witness can better describe an event to a judge or a jury.

 What is a Courthouse Dog Program?

In a Courthouse Dog Program:

1.  The dog is a graduate facility dog from an assistance dog school that is a member of Assistance Dogs International

2 The dog's handler is a professional in the legal system.
3.  The facility dog is utilized in such a way as to not disrupt legal proceedings or create legal issues

Why a Facility Dog?

Victims are often traumatized by crimes that have been committed against them and intimidated by the criminal justice system. Pilgrim, our well-trained, gentle-spirited, sweet team member provides calming, comforting support for victims throughout the often stressful criminal justice process.  His special training allows him to perform this important function in a variety of behavioral situations and to remain focused when working.

 Pilgrim accompany's victims during interviews and meetings related to their case. He offers a reassuring presence for our victims as they prepare testimony, meet with the Prosecutor regarding their case and in some instances confront perpetrators. He is there with them before and after they are required to face the perpetrator in court from the witness stand. 

The effects of crime on one's life often times can be life altering. It is our goal that our facility dog will provide a calm and relaxing presence from the first victim meeting to the conclusion of the court case. Pilgrim's participation in this process will reduce the anxiety of an otherwise grueling and emotional experience. 


pilgrim close up

Our Partnerships

We, at the District Attorney's Office are grateful for the assistance of the Courthouse Dogs Foundation whose knowledge and inspiration guided us in applying for and acquiring Pilgrim; to Canine Companions for Independence for the in-depth training and for placing Pilgrim with our office; our partnership with Lake City Animal Hospital  who generously donated all of Pilgrim’s veterinary care and to Ada's Pet Grooming for providing Pilgrim's grooming free of charge!

Pilgrim will also be assisting as needed during forensic interviews and meetings with abused children and their families as requested by Advocates For Children's CAC.

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     Cartersville Daily Tribune - Published March 13, 2016