Europe’s first Justice-Facility Dog, who offers comfort and emotional support to victims of crime, has been honoured by vet charity PDSA for his outstanding service to society.
Six-year-old Labrador Retriever Oliver was one of five incredible canines to receive the PDSA Order of Merit*, presented by PDSA patron HRH Princess Alexandra, at a special ceremony in London. The prestigious award celebrates extraordinary animals who demonstrate the unique bond between animals and humans.
As well as being the first Justice-Facility Dog in Europe, Oliver is also the first of his kind to be placed in a University. He was recognised for the unconditional comfort and intuitive bond he has with vulnerable victims of crime, many of whom are children.
Oliver’s devotion to duty and outstanding service to society, demonstrated through his pioneering role at Canterbury Christ Church University and his work with Kent Police and the NHS, made him a thoroughly deserving recipient.
Speaking at the awards ceremony, Dr Spruin said: “We had an amazing time at the ceremony today, and I am so proud of Oliver. I’m delighted that his pioneering work has been recognised with the prestigious PDSA Order of Merit. Oliver is excelling in his role, helping hundreds of vulnerable people every year through the comfort and support he provides. Oliver is transforming the justice system and I hope he will be the first of many dogs to go on to help thousands of anxious victims in very difficult circumstances.”
Oliver’s handler, and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University, Dr Elizabeth Spruin established Justice Facility Dogs UK after research into similar organisations in America and Canada led her to Duo Dogs, a not-for-profit organisation in the USA which trains Justice Facility Dogs.
Oliver completed two years of initial training at Duo Dogs before Dr Spruin brought him to the UK where he helps the most vulnerable members of society to find justice, supporting them during crucial phases of giving evidence. He offers calm and quiet companionship to traumatised people during stressful legal procedures, helping them to relax when giving evidence regarding harrowing situations, including child abuse, rape, and violence.
Oliver is introduced to people prior to any formal procedures in order to build their trust. He then stays at their side throughout the interview process and is trained to react to emotional distress by placing his body close to them.
The unique work that Oliver does within the criminal justice system has helped transform and radically improve support services available to victims.
Dr Spruin’s work and research with Oliver will build an evidence base to prove to criminal justice agencies just how beneficial Justice Facility Dogs can be for vulnerable people.
The research is a multidisciplinary collaboration and Dr Spruin has been working alongside Dr Katarina Mozova, secondary handler and Lecturer in the School of Law, Policing and Social Sciences and aims to influence policy change within the UK criminal justice system.
The PDSA Order of Merit exemplifies the devotion between animals and humans. Oliver is a wonderful example of how animals can significantly improve wellbeing and assist those most in need of support. With his unwavering devotion to duty and service to society, Oliver is making an incredible contribution to hundreds of lives in the UK. Importantly, he is also assisting in research to help transform the support that is available to victims. He gives comfort and reassurance during an exceptionally difficult and traumatic time for children and adults, who are having to relive the worst events they have experienced.”
PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing
Much of Oliver’s work has been alongside Kent Police, helping to gain vital evidence from children and vulnerable adults.
Detective Constable Rachel Freeman, a Specialist Safeguarding Officer based in the Protecting Vulnerable People Command at Kent Police, added: “I have seen first-hand how Oliver can help a child or young person who has been traumatised by something that has happened to them, or something they have seen.
“It is really important for an investigation that the police have as much evidence as possible, to make sure that those who commit crime are caught and put before the courts, so Oliver’s work is invaluable in ensuring criminals are brought to justice. I am so proud that Oliver has been awarded the PDSA Order of Merit and that his work has been formally recognised. Hopefully this will raise the profile of the project and encourage other police forces to introduce a Justice Facility Dog like Oliver, giving victims the extra support they need.”
The citation for Oliver’s award reads: ‘For devotion to duty and service to society, as an Assistance Dog providing comfort and support to vulnerable victims throughout the Criminal Justice System.’