Conway’s dog Roxy brings comfort to victims and witnesses through PAWS for Justice program

Conway’s dog Roxy brings comfort to victims and witnesses through PAWS for Justice program

CONWAY, Ark. – Roxy is a court service dog who has helped more than 150 Arkansas children share their stories with prosecutors and on the witness stand.

“When a victim comes in, especially a child, a lot of trauma has already happened and the legal process can be re-traumatizing if you don’t pay attention to that victim. That’s why a dog provides comfort without asking for anything in return,” said Fawn Borden, Roxy’s certified handler.

PAWS for Justice is a program that uses forensic dogs to assist in forensic interviews, police interrogations, medical examinations, prosecutor meetings, and court proceedings. The dogs help soothe and calm victims and witnesses.

Roxy is one of four court service dogs in Arkansas. In her year and a half of facilitating, she has helped pave the way for change and has helped approximately 150 children.

“We found that sometimes prosecutors were a little reluctant to try something new, but once they used the dog, they really saw the benefit of having the dog present at meetings, in trial preparation and then at trial,” Borden said.

Borden is also the deputy director of the PAWS for Justice program. PAWS stands for Patient Advocate Warm-hearted Support, which is exactly what these dogs represent to everyone they work with.

PAWS for Justice dogs come from Canine Companions; each dog costs approximately $50,000 between breeding, training, and insurance. However, the dogs are provided to PAWS for Justice free of charge.

“When a prosecutor asks us to come in, we go in, usually initially, for meetings, so we typically work with children, but we can’t be used for anyone going through the criminal justice process,” Borden said.

Roxy will play games with the children, such as tic-tac-toe and Uno, and show her tips for reassuring children.

“The kids can just lay on the floor and love it, and then when the prosecutors come in to explain why they’re there, they can kind of start a conversation by saying ‘oh, did Roxy show you that trick’ and kind of start that difficult or tough conversation,” Borden said.

If the case goes to court, Roxy may sit at the victim or witness’s feet while they testify on the stand to continue to comfort them.

However, Borden said there is considerable controversy over whether dogs should be allowed in the courtroom.

“I think the biggest concern for defense attorneys is whether the jury sees very young victims coming in with a very cute, cuddly dog ​​and all of a sudden the idea that they must really be a victim if they’re going to have this dog,” Borden said.

In Arkansas, state law provides for the use of a mediation dog in court proceedings, which PAWS for Justice is closely monitoring; Roxy even met with Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders herself to show off her skills.

“Ideally, the jury never sees the dog. Sometimes they’re not informed of its presence until after the fact,” Borden said. “To avoid any prejudicial sympathy for the victim, we keep our dogs out of sight.”

However, the puppy trainer and first-time mom to Roxy never imagined the impact she would have when Roxy came into her life in December 2020, especially when she came out barking, something she couldn’t do during her work.

“We got her around 6 or 7 weeks old, potty training, sleepless nights and everything that comes with being a baby, well, a puppy in our case,” said Roxy’s first-time mom, Michele Paden.

Paden taught her basic commands and tried to socialize with her as much as possible during COVID-19.

“We transitioned Roxy in May of 2022, and she started her journey in puppy school or professional training, and that’s where they teach advanced commands for about 6 to 9 months and determine if Roxy has what it takes to be a service dog,” Paden said.

When Roxy graduated as a service dog in May 2022, Paden handed over the reins to Roxy’s handler, Borden.

“It’s not normal for dogs to be placed in the same state and be able to serve in the area where they’re bred, and so we’re very fortunate to have that relationship and be able to see her multiple times a year,” Paden said.

Thanks to her placement in Arkansas, Paden still visits Roxy and gives her love and treats when she’s not working. Paden is proud of her baby dog.

“It’s incredible to know that she touches so many lives on a daily basis and that she can come back and serve the state where she grew up,” Paden said.

Roxy impacts many lives in person and on social media. To learn more and follow Roxy, visit Instagram: @courthouse_roxy @arpawsforjustice, Facebook: @RoxyRocks @PawsforJusticeAnd TIC Tac: @courthouse_roxy.