Courthouse dogs research: a protection tool for minors testifying.

The presence of our dogs humanizes the courts and makes visible the minors involved in the judicial system.

Photo of Vanessa Carral Portilla
0 5

Written by

I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize and, based on its description, I am eligible to apply:

  • Yes, I’m eligible
  • Yes, I’m 18 years old or older

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend:

  • The Purina BetterwithPets Forum in Paris, on 3-4th of June 2020

Initiative's representative name

Vanessa Carral Portilla

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • Spain

Headquarters location: city

Carretera de Canillas 17 28043 Madrid

Where are you making a difference?


Website or social media url(s)

Date Started

July 2015

Focus Areas

  • The presence of Courthouse Dogs offers an emotional support to the minors reducing anxiety behaviors

What is your current yearly budget for the initiative? If you are an idea stage, what early budget you would need to kick-off and run operations in your first year?

  • €10k - €50k

Organisation Type

  • hybrid: a combination of different types of organisations, such as a social enterprise (an organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being)

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

When I was working as a Psychologist at National Police i was witnessed of minors involved in justice issues so this make me feel that those facilities like courthouses, police stations,... where built for adults by adults. The minors are not taking in account but they still have to visit those places and talk to strangers about many personal issues they've been throug. It's really heartbroken when you see the anxiety in their eyes. So I needed to do something about it but it was many years after that,after being abroad learning about the power of animals when I realized that they could make a huge differences. Once back in Spain we create Dogtor Animal and find the way to make my dream to help minors involved in justice themes come true.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The presence of children in the Courts is a reality that reveals specific needs to be covered. This research addresses the presence in the Spanish Courts of Justice of Coruthose Dogs for testifying kids wich helps to reduce anxiety factors and facilitate positive emotional states during forensic interviews or testimonies

3. Your solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

The research is the starting point for the inclusion of Courthouse Dogs in judicial offices as humanization of the Courts, offering a protection tool for minors and facilitating the work of court professionals, in those cases the presence the presence of de support dog fits in. So we need first o amplify the research, expanding the sample and controlling factors of internal validity (maturation effect and experimental bias) and external validity (Reactive effects of experimental arrangements and novelty effect). So the possibility of adding a neurofeedback tool in the second research phase is proposed in order to complement the results with objective physiological data. Secondly we need to generalize the presence of Courthouse Dogs in every facility is needed.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

Courts are no longer perceived as a hostil place by minors an we even realeased the previous anxiety helping the kids wanted to come to the forensic interviews. Finally, the pioneering character in Spain of the service of Courthouse Dogs for Juveniles in Courts gives the attached document an innovation view that may be interesting in the eyes of the reader who will be able to discover the adaptation of the presence of animals specifically trained to the Spanish Judicial System, implementing specific protocols, innovated techniques and an experimental design according to the incorporation of a tool, previously used in the Spanish Courts.

5. How does your project harness the pet-human bond to help people develop important social competencies (For example: emotional intelligence, collaboration, empathy, resilience, inclusivity) and overcome serious societal issues (for example: violence, abuse, trauma, isolation, abandonment)?

The pressing need to count on the children´s presence at the Courthouses and to offer them support adapted to their individualities highlights the importance of this present project. Presence of Courthouse Dogs has a significant influence on the absence of nervous movements and restlessness. At the same time, the presence of Courthouse Dogs influences the emotional states verbalized by the children, being these more proactive in the communicative interactions with the court professionals. The Courthouse Dogs offers the generation of secure bonds between the children and the court professionals, they being perceived as more reliable and favoring more fluid interviews from positive emotional states.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

Since the project starts we helped 365 children to testify in our Courts. .The presence of Courthouse dogs have make a huge impact: 1. Reducing stress and anxiety of minors who have to testify, this influence has being noticed even days before the minor has to come to the court. 2.The presence of the support dog softens the interactions between the parties (father and mother) 3.The support dog is revealed as a facilitator in the development of the link between the judicial professional and the minor, favoring the latter to agree to accompany the judicial professionals to their offices for interviews. 4.We are observing how the presence of the dog helps that the minors offer more fluid and detailed speeches during the forensic interviews from a calmer emotional state. 5.We also an interesting support in those cases in which children with functional diversity should attend Courts.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

We would like to expand the research sample as well as implement a non-invasive neurofeedback follow-up during forensic interviews in order to obtain more reliable data on the impact of minor support dogs in Courts. On the other hand, we would like to expand the number of courts that have access to the resource as well as the type of beneficiary, since we would like to offer support to women survivors of gender violence.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

The project, first of all, makes children visible in the courts, attending to specific needs in a crisis situation. The facilitation of the creation of links between the judicial professional and the minor offers an improvement in the development of forensic interviews helping that the minor gives more information and more detailed from the beginning of the forensic interviews and this has an impact in the time the minor has to be in the court. On the other hand, the presence of dogs helps humanize the courts favoring positive emotional states in minors.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

We have being sponsored at the beginning by our own work, now we are working with public institutions and we still looking for more investors to make the project solid. However, we would like to obtain more funding to implement the improvements outlined in the previous point, as well as publish and train on the benefits and methodology of Courthousedogs in Europe.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Actually we are a multidisciplinary team with is made of: 1 Clinical and educational psychologist (full Time) 2 Social Psychologist (part time) 1 Nurse (part time) 1 Animal traidor (full time) 4 handlers (part time) 1 Coordinator and handler (full time) 9 Dogs

11. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize?

If we are the winners, we want to influence how humans interact with animals and show how animals can be an engine of change in each one of us. Likewise we want to educate in the idea of ​​animal human coexistence from respect and compassion teaching how we can be respectful and responsible with the animals that surround us. We want to be agents of change in the consciences of the people as well as to demonstrate that our animals can open windows where all the doors are closed. Open minds and go beyond limitations

12. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

Judicial professionals carry out a preliminary evaluation of the candidate and assess the adaptability of the resource to the needs of the case. The presence of the Courthouse dog (CD) is divided into four phases during each of them that help to mitigate anxiety factors and favor a positive emotional:1. WAITING ROOM: the CD and the team meet the minor promoting the emotional link between the CD and the kid. 2.ON THE WAY: the child takes the leash and the connection is made between CD and child 3.THE FORENSIC INTERVIEW: The CD must be a passive agent and the interviewer may use the presence of the CD to foster a space of trust and naturalness, develop a greater and faster, put the CD as example to obtain certain information or generate empathy, ask questions indirectly so that the kid feels less overwhelmed 4.FAREWELL: The CD may be available to maintain an interaction with the kid. This phase will be warm by focusing attention on CD and leaving the interview in the background.

14. Mutual Benefit: Explain how your project mutually benefits the pets involved – how is the pet not only used as tool?

Dogtor Animal has in his DNA the "one health, one welfare"path. Above all, we need our animals to be balanced in order to balance people, so we have an ethical code that ensures animal welfare in an holistic way to understand them: emotionally, physically, cognitively, socially and biologically. On the other hand, our intervention dogs become models of good treatment and psychoeduchers, they teach in all environment we work in, how respect and human-animal synergy make significant changes in everyone's own world leaving a mark, teaching respectful coexistence. Likewise, some of our dogs are shelter dogs that we rehabilitate so they can be first and foremost, members of Dogtor Animal´s family, and then, balanced coworkers. Finally, I would like to highlight our solidarity fund initiative that, in addition to helping us finance projects, a part of the benefits are donated to shelters helping other dogs worlds changing encouraging responsible pet ownership.

15. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

The Courthouse Dogs for testifying kids is pioneered by Dogtor Animal in Spain, although there are other longer-lived CD initiatives in the United States, we have been helping minor who have to testify in Court in Spain since 2015. In that time we had helped 375 minors in Courts. While it is true that there are other resources in the Judicial environment to help minors in their passage through the Court such as friendly rooms, psychosocial teams and pre-constituted tests after our research we have verified how direct contact with CD has been unveiled as a tool for channeling and emotional regulation of minors, since direct contact has served in certain moments of emotional protection. The presence of CDs has favored an adequate emotional state during forensic interviews. CD have helped generate well-being in children who have accessed the service during their judicial interviews.On the other hand, the Courts are perceived in a more positive way by the minors and their families.

16. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project.

Dogtor Animal has been fortunate to have the collaboration of Bayer Health Care to ensure the veterinary welfare of our Courthouse Dogs as well as give visibility to the project. On the other hand, the Madrid Ministry of Justice collaboration has been the key in order to favor the presence of Courthouse Dogs in the Spanish Judicial System. We would like to be able to increase the synergies to expand the access of the project at national level as well as to be able to extend the Courthouse Dogs action to women survivors of gender-based violence and people with functional diversity who had to testify in a court in order to provide them with this support adapted to their needs in this context.

17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

The Courhouse Dog Project has not yet get any recognition or awards. Although it has appeared in different media such as radio, television, written and digital press. We have also written a chapter of a book sharing our research experience regarding Courthouse Dogs that, we hope, will be published soon. Dogtor Animal award from Psychofoundation (2013):

18. Your Self-Elevator Pitch (OPTIONAL): Share a 1-minute video that shares a quick summary of the problem you would like to solve, how you’ve chosen to solve it, and the impact you hope to see.

Have you ever visited a Courthouse for any reason?, what emotions did the experience make you feel? Please write them down to have them in your mind. Now imagine you are a 5 year old child and you have to go to a place where you'll have to answer questions very personal to someone you don't even know. You feel lonely and lost and you don't understand everything, but Courthouse Dogs makes the diffence. They humanize Courthouses.

19. Financial Sustainability (OPTIONAL): Please tell us more about how you plan to fund and scale your project, include an attached document with your detailed business plan or other equivalent information. (This information will NOT be shared with your fellow contestant, it will only be visible to you and internal Prize reviewers).

Our financial plan is: 1. Replicate the successful way of implementation that we have done so far with the financing of Purina Prize, thanks to this funding, we would expand the research study to favor its implementation in new Courts, reaffirming the help of dogs to optimize the time of forensic interviews 2.Thanks to our extremely qualified team and its experience having visited Courthouse Dogs project in the United States and carrying out this project for almost 5 years we offer guarantees of success. 3.Dogtor Animal has a statewide name being a reference in Animal Assisted Interventions, thus offering a quality seal. 4.Guaranteed by our experience in Family and criminal courts we have an advantage in order to expand the project to other spaces since we have the methodology, infrastructure and qualified team to do so. We enclose the breakdown of the billing for the current project and the project budget for the periphery and at the state level.

Evaluation results

2 evaluations so far

1. OVERALL Evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Does this entry have SOCIAL IMPACT?

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Does this entry have potential to GROW & demonstrate LEADERSHIP?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. Is this entry VIABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%


Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

7. FEEDBACK – Highlights

INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions or used an old model in a new way - 100%

IMPACT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 0%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: You have a thoughtful plan for growth and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 0%

VIABIBLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 0%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You value thinking around how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 50%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: You have a clearly defined plan on how to maximize shared value across multiple sectors and stakeholders - 50%

WRITING STYLE: Your writing style is concise, descriptive, clear, and specific - 0%

Other option - 50%

8. FEEDBACK - Areas for Improvement

INNOVATION: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 0%

IMPACT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 0%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 100%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: Your plan can benefit from more thought on how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 0%

WRITING STYLE: Try to be more concise, descriptive, clear, and specific. Avoid jargon - 0%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation: