University first to recruit facility dog with aim of supporting victims

02 January 2019

A specially-trained justice facility dog has become the first in Europe to be placed at a university. Canterbury Christ Church University, working with Kent Police, have launched a pilot project that will see the dog help vulnerable people within the UK criminal justice system.

The pilot aims to produce an evidence base to show that using a trained facility dog can provide a less traumatic experience for victims. 

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Kent Police in September 2018 and Oliver the Labrador-Retriever, is the newest member to join the Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences. 

He was donated by Duo, a US organisation accredited through Assistance Dogs International (ADI), and has been professionally trained for 18 months. 

His breeding and training has equipped him to provide quiet companionship and he will use his skills to support the vulnerable during their criminal justice journey, including the investigation and prosecution of crimes. 

Dr Liz Spruin, primary handler and Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at Christ Church, founded the Justice Support Dogs International Lab (JSDI) and has been working alongside Dr Katarina Mozova, secondary handler and Lecturer in the Department of Policing.

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Oliver, the Labrador-Retriever

Speaking about the pilot, Dr Spruin said: “I am thrilled to not only have the first specially-trained facility dog in Europe, but to also be working with Kent Police on such a ground-breaking innovative project. 

“It’s a really exciting time which will build the evidence base needed to show criminal justice agencies just how beneficial these dogs can be for vulnerable people." - Dr Liz Spruin.

“The work will create academic research into the psychological effects of the use of facility dogs upon vulnerable people in legal proceedings, which hopes to better support witnesses and victims throughout the duration of a legal case.” 

Detective Superintendent Susie Harper from Kent Police said: “At Kent Police, victims and witnesses are at the heart of everything we do. We are always looking for innovative ways to put their needs first.

“This project will enable us to find out more about how facility dogs can support victims and witnesses by providing comfort whilst decreasing anxiety and longer term recovery from trauma so that better mental health and well-being is achieved. 

‘We are pleased to be working with Canterbury Christ Church University to explore and develop our own evidence base similar to the research conducted in Canada on the benefits these dogs could have on all aspects of the criminal justice system.”

- Detective Superintendent Susie Harper, Kent Police. 

The pilot programme and associated research hopes to use Oliver to comfort, calm, and reduce stress and anxiety, for people involved in a variety of cases, at different points in the legal proceedings. This could include a police interview, medical examination, or before and during a court case. 

The use of facility dogs has expanded rapidly in the United States of America, however, there has yet to be any vigorous research carried out to understand the benefits of using specially trained dogs in this way.

The research agenda will span over seven years and is centred on the analysis of real-life cases where the facility dog is utilised, research using mock trials and interviews, and research which focuses on the wellbeing of facility dogs during their work.

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with 16,000 students across Kent and Medway. Its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.

  • Over 94% of our UK undergraduates were in employment or further studies six months after completing their studies*.
  • We are one of the South East’s largest providers of education, training and skills leading to public service careers.

*2015/16 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey



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Last edited: 31/01/2019 17:23:00