King County’s first Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA) courthouse comfort dog has died, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office announced on Nov. 12.
Murphy, a mixed breed rescue, served as an ITA comfort dog for many years. ITA Court provides services to mentally ill individuals who are suicidal, homicidal and gravely disabled.
Murphy was always a friendly face for witnesses, prosecutors, defense attorneys, families, court staff, doctors and professionals at Harborview Medical Center, according to a news release from the prosecuting attorney’s office.
“Murphy was a very good dog; he faithfully, patiently, and effectively served our community for many years,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. “We thank him for that service. He will be so missed.”
Anne Mizuta, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney and the ITA supervisor, was Murphy’s owner and trained him to fulfill his community job.
“I used Murphy on numerous occasions to calm my witness’s nerves so they could go before the court and present evidence to get an individual suffering from mental illness and in crisis the essential care they so desperately needed,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jocelyn McCurtain, who worked with Murphy on multiple occasions.
In one example, McCurtain brought Murphy in to sit with one witness who was terrified to testify about the everyday terror she experienced due to a neighbor who was in crisis at her apartment complex, she said.
“Murphy calmly sat and let her pet him, let her rest her hand on him and hug him,” McCurtain said. “He was calm, patient, and simply laid there providing her comfort.”
In order to provide ITA patients with the appropriate level of care, King County prosecutors are required to present evidence for the court’s consideration to hold them in the hospital setting.
King County’s ITA team meets with families and witnesses, both to prepare them for court appearances, but also to provide them with assurances that their loved ones are receiving the appropriate level of attention and care, according to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
It is the responsibility of ITA prosecutors to make witnesses that come to Harborview for ITA hearings feel comfortable, cared for and listened to, the office said.
“These witnesses are often stressed and upset with what their family members, friends, loved ones and community members are going through,” according to the office. “To lower this stress, and to provide a calmer environment and help individuals through this difficult time, the [prosecuting attorney’s office’s] ITA team implemented the use of a court comfort dog — Murphy.”
On several occasions, children may have to accompany their parents to court due to lack of childcare coverage. One time when parents brought in their child, feeling both fearful and restless sitting in the hospital for hours on end, Murphy came out and sat with her, McCurtain said. Murphy’s presence calmed the child down and alleviated the family’s stress.
Courthouse dogs are trained to assist people with mental disabilities, elderly individuals, teens and young children — essentially anyone who might find a dog comforting — as they are called upon to provide courtroom testimony or go through a witness interview.
King County had the nation’s first courthouse dog. Since then, there are now over 100 courthouse dogs in the United States and the resource is expanding to countries around the world.