Who are these dogs of justice who deserve to “soak the emotions” of the participants in a trial? – Ouest-France evening edition

Legal aid dogs calmly stand alongside victims or defendants in an attempt to help them through this difficult time. In the Millas trial that opened on September 20, 2022, Ouchi and Rancho captured negative emotions.

An emotional silence in the court, the impartial faces of the magistrates in their black robes facing them, six teenagers one by one stormed the Marseille Criminal bar Court, to testify on the second day of the trial of the accident in Millas (Pyrénées- Orientales), Tuesday, September 20, 2022. A school bus collided with a train in 2017, killing six children and injuring 17 yet. One of the teenagers, overcome with emotion, was speechless. He took a deep breath, stroked the glistening golden retriever’s head at his feet, and spoke again.

A little blue cape on the back, Ouchi is a legal assistance dog. He is there to comfort the person, to support him morally, “so that the person can experience the process as harmlessly as possible” according to the words of Frédéric Almendros, public prosecutor of Cahors, quoted by Florian Auffret, who directs research and development within the association of Handi’Chiens.

A unique support system in France

“This technique is a support device and cannot be considered a gimmick. The dog is there to help you bear the emotional burden of this trial.warned the president of the criminal court of Marseille, Céline Ballerini to open the trial on September 19, 2022.

Unlike North America, which has used this technique for many years – the United States has 300 dogs of this type – legal assistance dogs are rare in French courts. Only seven are currently active in Cahors, Strasbourg, Nevers, Orléans and Nîmes. It was the first time in the Millas trial that a dog, Rancho, a black Labrador, was with a defendant.

“The whole initiative came from a magistrate from Cahors, Frédéric Almendros, who knew these dogs across the Atlantic and who was trained in the United States, tell to the evening edition Olivia Mons, spokesperson for the France Victims association. Then with the Ministry of Justice, France Victims 46 and the firefighters of Cahors, we created a partnership to promote the presence of these animals at all times of the legal process. »

“The dog is a medium”

Hearing with the police, hearing with the attorney’s office, meeting with the investigating judge, after the trial… “Encountering a victim in the legal world is extremely stressful. And even more so than testing all manners and strangers around you”he added.

Rancho, the Labrador with the accused Nadine Oliveira during the trial of Millas. (PHOTOPQR/LA PROVENCE/MAXPPP)

The dog is there to capture the emotions. He feels negative emotions. He moves towards the victim when he feels the need for contact. “At France Victims, we accompany the victims from the first hour and physically, we accompany them to the benches of the courts. But when they are moved by emotion they do not dare to hold the hand of the companion. This is a gesture that we do with our loved ones, details Olivia Mons. while the dog is a medium, he is there to reassure, without judgment, he can be petted, almost manipulated. »

The dogs are trained for two years

The seven French legal assistance dogs were trained for two years by the Handi’Chiens association, under the supervision of Florian Auffret, who manages research and development within the association.

“They have the same basic education as other assistance dogs for people with disabilities, but they are selected at the end of the training according to their skills”, he explained. They must meet specific criteria: have a high level of empathy, be calm, do not get angry easily even if there is a sudden movement or if there is a disturbance, very close to people…

A trait that is especially found in Labradors and Goldens Retrievers, the two dog breeds that have become legal assistants in France. “You can train these dogs without moving for hourslined up Olivia Mons. Then they are less allergenic so can be suitable for as many people as possible. »

To be comfortable in the judicial environment, the dogs are used to uniforms, they are trained to approach and lie against the leg, to put their heads on their knees while remaining smart. “Don’t focus on the dog because he is distracted”, by Florian Auffret. Beyond the training of the dogs which cost 17,000 euros per head, that of the teams responsible for the canines is equally important.

Twenty dogs from 2023?

“The dog will get all the negative emotions so the referent of the dog must know if the animal needs to go out because of the overflow of emotions, or to rest”he pointed out.

France Victims, Handi’Chiens and the Adrienne and Pierre Sommer foundation, committed to the mediation of animals, are fighting to ensure that this practice is no longer an exception. By the end of 2023, 17 to 20 dogs could help victims or accused persons in France. One downside: funding. And to solve this problem, according to Florian Auffret, “We must prove in the eyes of justice the benefits of this device”.

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