Oliver, Europe's first justice-facility dog

08 April 2021

Christ Church’s justice-facility dog and the UK’s first to support vulnerable victims wins ‘Assistance Animal of the Year’ award

Oliver, a black Labrador-Retriever, has been specially trained from a very young age to support vulnerable victims and witnesses of crime by offering quiet companionship in police interviews and other aspects of the criminal justice system.

At this year’s national Animal Star Awards, Oliver won the ‘Assistance Animal of the Year’ award, judged by industry experts. The awards ‘recognise animals and humans alike for the extraordinary things they do.’

Oliver’s work is being led by Dr Liz Spruin, Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Life Sciences. Dr Spruin is Oliver’s main handler, and he is the first facility dog in the world to be placed at a University for research purposes, and currently the only facility dog of his kind within the UK.

Oliver was donated by Duo, a not-for-profit organisation that trains and provides highly skilled assistance dogs across America. Dr Spruin and her team set up the Justice Support Dogs International Lab (JSDI) established to promote the use of professionally trained Justice Facility Dogs in the UK Criminal Justice System. Since 2004, these facility dogs have been helping vulnerable people participate in stressful legal proceedings across North America. Today there are around 300 of these dogs working across 40 states and provinces in America and Canada.

Oliver won Assistance Animal of the Year AwardOliver won Assistance Animal of the Year Award

Whilst anecdotal evidence has found these facility dogs to provide a number of benefits to vulnerable people in the justice system, for example for comfort and calmness, reducing stress and anxiety, helping with speech and memory function; the empirical evidence required to establish these benefits is still required.

The mission of JSDI is therefore to build an evidence base for the value of these dogs. We envision that by doing so, the use of justice facility dogs will begin to grow, not just in the UK, but worldwide.

At the start of 2020, Oliver began working with Victim Support Europe to help develop a facility dog programme to support victims and witnesses during legal proceedings across a number of European countries. The research Oliver has been involved with is being used to help inform the development of the first Facility Dog Programme in Europe.

Oliver is a black Labrador-RetrieverOliver is a black Labrador-Retriever

In March 2020, Oliver took part in a week placement with Nottingham Police, and then in April 2020, Oliver’s work was showcased at the 2020 Annual American Bar Association (ABA) meeting, it was part of a panel entitled ‘Facility Dogs Give Voice to Victims of Trauma and Violence Worldwide’. The research that was showcased was then used as evidence to support a Facility Dog Resolution, which was passed by the House of Delegates, resulting in the national commission of Facility Dogs in court proceedings across America. The research Oliver has been involved with was used as the main body of support for this new resolution.

In November 2020, Survivors Memoirs, an international charity dedicated to supporting survivors of childhood sexual abuse, began creating a book entitled ‘ the survivors memoirs’, to help raise awareness about survivors of childhood sexual abuse and Oliver’s work was included as a chapter in the book, which is currently in the process of being published.

Oliver has also been supporting local paramedics throughout the pandemic by visiting the South East Coast Ambulance Service providing them with comfort and support.


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Last edited: 15/01/2020 11:19:00