First court dog program serves victims of domestic violence



Pittsburgh, PA – In cooperation with Allegheny County District Attorney, Stephen Zappala President Judge, Donna Jo McDaniel, and Honorable Anthony W. Saveikis, Crisis Center North (CCN) will launch Allegheny County’s first court dog program, serving victims of domestic violence.

Victims often find that testifying against an abuser can be traumatizing and terrifying. In order to help ease the stress, CCN’s in-house therapy dog, Penelope, will be accompany survivors in magisterial courts as they go through the process of speaking with an advocate, police officer or court personnel.




“For victims, the criminal justice process can be overwhelming and unnerving and anything we can do to make that process less so is important. The opportunity to use therapy dogs to give victims and their families a calming influence is unique and progressive and I am pleased that my office can partner with Crisis Center North to make this project happen,” states District Attorney Stephen Zappala.

Penelope has been working with clients in therapy at the CCN’s offices but the new court dog program will give her the chance to support clients in an entirely new venue.

“For the past several years, counselors and advocates at Crisis Center North have been amazed at the healing impact our canine advocate, Penelope, has on victims of domestic violence. We are pleased to expand our Animal Assisted Therapy Program to the Allegheny County Court system. Without the support of District Attorney Stephen Zappla; President Judge, Donna Jo McDaniel; and The Honorable Anthony W. Saveikis, who offered up his court as the first test site, the project expansion would not be possible. Crisis Center North is so pleased to work with individuals who have such a fervent commitment to victim services,” explains Grace Coleman, Executive Director at Crisis Center North.

While it’s not unusual to find working dogs in therapy situations, victim services is a relatively new field for canines. Because of their keen sense of smell, dogs are often able to sense the exact emotion that their human companions are feeling giving them the unique ability to comfort them appropriately.

Judge Saveikis is thrilled to offer his court to Penelope’s services.

“Our search is for the ultimate truth. If the addition of Penny will help domestic violence victims feel more comfortable then she is always welcome.”

CCN Legal Advocate Taylor Voss agrees.

“In court Penny will give the victim an avenue to channel their emotions, nerves, and reservations. I believe Penny will be a benefit to the court staff as well- if the victim is able to share their true story, a positive verdict is more likely,” explains Voss.

Penelope will begin her court dog duties with Judge Saveikis; however, additional magistrates have expressed interest in the program. Plans to expand the program are in the works.


Since 1978 Crisis Center North has assisted victims of domestic violence in our community through a variety of resources and confidential services. The Center provides free empowerment counseling and advocacy to adult, teen, and child victims of domestic violence in the northern and western communities of Allegheny County. Crisis Center North also provides educational programming to community and school programs. Services are provided to individuals regardless of race, age, gender, disability, economic status, or sexual orientation.


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