Court Dogs Victoria

Program Overview


OPP Victim Support Dog Program

The Office of Public Prosecutions Victoria has adopted the use of a trained support dog to provide comfort to vulnerable witnesses when waiting for court or when giving evidence from the remote witness facility. We believe this is a positive step in making the court system more trauma sensitive to victims and witnesses.

Participating in a courtroom or other legal proceeding is one of the most stressful events that people can experience. Studies show the use of an appropriately trained dog can significantly reduce the stress in these experiences thereby improving the efficiency and quality of the legal process.

Why use a support dog?

Our dog – Coop

  • Coop is a 3 year old female Labrador owned by K9 Support
  • She works two days a week at the OPP
  • She is a trained support/facility dog, not a therapy dog (she is trained specifically for this work and to the standard of a guide or assistance dog). A support dog;
    • Can work independently of their owner/handler
    • Empowers the witness as they are given hold of the lead and become the dogs ‘handler’
    • Responds to strangers and takes commands from strangers
    • Seeks eye contact and physical contact
    • Responds to emotional states eg crying (paw on lap, head in lap)
    • Lies/sleeps beside someone for extended periods of time

What does Coop do?

  • Interacts with witnesses, victims and family in the WAS (Witness Assistance Services) reception area
  • Attends case conferences
  • Spends quiet time in a waiting room with a witness
  • Accompanies the witness in remote witness rooms (at the OPP, Magistrates Court, County Court, Child Witness Services and William cooper Justice Centre). Coop stays on lead as this tactile connection helps the witness to focus on something tangible and not their emotional state.

How court integrity is maintained

  • The presence of a dog is in not intended to influence or prejudice a jury but simply to provide support and comfort.
  • Permission is sought from the Magistrate or Judge and defence counsel is notified. It is left to the Judge to balance the needs of the vulnerable witness against the presence of a dog creating potential prejudice to a juror which could impact the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
  • To minimise any potential influence on the jury, in the remote witness facility, Coop lies on her mat beside the witness out of view of the camera. There is no disruption or distraction to the proceedings. The jury does not see the dog.


  • Feedback collected shows there are clear indications that the presence of Coop is helping to facilitate the court process.
  • Reduced stress on witnesses /victims
  • Calmer witnesses/victims are delivering their evidence with fewer breaks and so shortening the length of court proceedings
  • Witnesses/victims are staying engaged in the process knowing they can have access to Coop


Thank you so much for doing this. I can't tell you what a difference it made coming here today knowing Coop would be here. She's a lifesaver. She is amazing. Holding the lead really helped to ground me. I took my shoes off so I could feel her at my feet. (Victim)

I'm special 'cause I've got a dog. (Victim)

It's actually just calming just to watch her because I wasn't then thinking about okay, what are the questions or try to analyse what they say or what they want you to say so it was more of a distraction which was good, a really good distraction. (Victim)

She makes me feel so calm. (Victim)

The complainant found it difficult to express who she was meant to be meeting with and became quite distressed. Coop had an immediate and visible positive effect and the complainant was quite appreciative of the support. I was honestly amazed with the difference that Coop made and will be strongly recommending the use of support dog to other OPP solicitors. (Solicitor)

We had concerns about xx giving evidence and not able to say words or describe the incident as she had really struggled previously. However she appeared to manage the situation better with Coop present and was able to give her evidence as needed. (WAS)

All of the witnesses commented on how much they loved having her around as a source of comfort during what was a fairly stressful few days for them. (WAS)

One of the witnesses (complainant), told me that over the weekend she had decided that she would not come to court to give evidence as she was so emotional and apprehensive about the prospect of discussing such a traumatic event again. She was in a heightened state and was very emotional. After being contacted by you the day before court and informed that Coop would be able to keep her company she changed her mind. No doubt if this witness did fail to show up for court there would have been some considerable effects on this case. (Informant)

The witness was definitely a lot calmer having Coop there. I think she was able to take less breaks because she was calm. It was very helpful for her cognitively impaired son who was in the waiting room as well, as he was settled and calm which meant there weren't disruptions in her evidence. (Solicitor).