Since the FYDO – Facility Dogs Europe – project came to an end in December 2022, the project consortium has been striving to complete the project’s mission: to train and place justice assistance dogs which will support vulnerable victims of crime on their journey to justice. This article offers you a brief overview of the project partners’ ongoing work in their respective countries.
About the FYDO project
It is widely accepted that taking part in criminal proceedings significantly increases an individual’s exposure to harms such as secondary victimisation. However, pilot studies in Europe have shown that victims feel, and can verbalise, better when they interact with a – specially trained – ‘facility dog’ during criminal trials or even when making a complaint to the police. The use of these dogs is based on research which demonstrates that the presence of animals can help lower a person’s heart rate and blood pressure and improve their response to stress; thus, promoting a sense of well-being.
Since early 2021, Victim Support Europe (BE), Dog4Life (IT), Viaduq67 (FR), Handi’Chiens (FR), Canisha (BE), Hachiko (BE) and the University College Cork (IE), have taken part in a unique project funded by the European Justice Programme: Facility Dogs in Europe (FYDO).
Dog4Life, FYDO’s Italian partner, has continuously promoted the project’s work and efforts across their country.
In Lombardy, Dog4Life has connected with a judge who is interested in introducing FYDO dogs into her courtroom. This judge, who was recently made Honorary Judge for the criminal court in Brescia, has been working as an advisor to the scientific committee during the FYDO project.
Also in Brescia, a young victim of crime asked to be accompanied by a facility dog; initially the Court did not consider his request. However, after some thought, they are now re-considering this decision for which an outcome is awaited.
Dog4Life has also had contact, in the form of information exchange on the use of FYDO dogs, with officials from the city of Bergamo, as a centre for victims of crime is due to open in the area.
In Rome, discussions are taking place between the National Observatory on Harassment and Dog4Life to bring the FYDO dogs, and their benefits, directly to the attention of the Ministers of Justice and Interior Affairs.
A FYDO dog is to participate in group therapy sessions for perpetrators of gender violence, under a new project that is to soon start in collaboration with the Centro Italiano per la Promozione della Mediazione (CPIM) in Milan.
In summary, in Italy, there is a great deal of interest in working with facility dogs and steps are being taken to put ideas into practice. Dog4Life currently works with eight FYDO handlers and ten facility dogs.
In December 2022, in the presence of Charlotte Caubel, the French Secretary of State for Children, and Brigitte Macron, the First Lady of France, Eric Dupond-Moretti, the French Minister of
Justice, announced that he wanted to “normalise”, and find funding for, the use of facility dogs within organisations that would benefit from their presence. The Minister of Justice explained that the goal is to have “one dog per region” across France.
Following from that, in February 2023, the French Ministry of Justice signed an agreement with the national assistance dog school, France Victimes, and the Animal Protection Society (SPA) to ensure that a FYDO dog will be located in each jurisdiction; 20 additional dogs per year will be made available to the voluntary courts. Local agreements are now being drawn up between various entities: heads of courts, Handi’Chiens, victim support associations, bar associations, internal security forces, etc. These agreements state that while the choice of handler may vary locally, they should be members of victim support associations.
For several months now, residents of a youth assistance facility in Antwerp have had a special companion; following two years of intensive training, Sam – a Labrador retriever – has joined the group’s supervisors as a live-in facility dog. This is a pioneering project within youth aid: for the first time, a specifically trained facility dog is being used to support children and young people who are temporarily unable to live at home.
The vaulted ceiling of an old chapel in the heart of Antwerp houses several live-in groups at the Youth Care Emmaüs. Children and young people, aged between 12 and 20, are housed there following various crisis situations or when things go wrong at home. “A lot of the young people who end up here are victims of abuse or violence at a very young age,” explained Thijs Van Vijnckt of Youth Care Emmaüs Antwerp. “Their stay here can be intense, they are often confronted by their memories and associated traumas. They need something to hold on to, anchor points through which they can process their emotions. To help with this, an extra colleague has been walking around on four legs since September: Sam, a specifically trained facility dog. While Sam lives and works with me, he also has two other ‘bosses’ within the organisation, assistants who are trained to work with him and the youngsters. Because of the commands he has learned, he works with young people in vulnerable situations; helping to defuse crisis situations and reduce stress levels, or to channel emotions as needed. Sam’s presence along with his active assistance has, more than once, had a positive effect on the trauma-related behaviour of the 23 young people we’ve supervised over the past four months.”
Having Sam work within a youth support facility is the culmination of the European FYDO project coordinated by Victim Support Europe. Hachiko and Canisha, two internationally accredited organisations that train assistance dogs, received grants to run a two-year course to train Sam. “Sam was included in our training programme,” explains Mark van Gelder of Canisha. “Because of his specific characteristics as a very stable, calm, social dog, after the basic 1.5-year training in a host family, he then underwent training as a facility dog. Initially, commands were practiced with a trainer, thereafter intensive training with his main owner, Thijs, was carried out. He was introduced to his new home environment and then to his new working environment. But, even in the future, Sam will continue to receive further training to deal with all the stimuli he will face.”
The cost of training a puppy as a facility dog is not cheap. “Training and lifelong follow-up sessions require an investment of around EUR 25,000; we were very excited to be able to complete this specific project within the project grant from Victim Support Europe,” adds Sandra Demeester of Hachiko. “Sam is really a colleague and literally works with us to help children and young people. Thanks to his commands, Sam can help break the ice with children. He is there when they have difficult conversations, he absorbs a lot of emotions: he knows how to react when children or young people lose themselves for a moment. He is an extra point of support for children who really need it. Our experience with Sam has allowed us to create a roadmap for other recognised organisations that train assistance dogs. However, we must be realistic, the high cost and waiting lists within the training centres, means that placing a facility dog takes time. But that they add value for young people in a difficult situation, that is clear.”
After the placement of a facility dog with the Ghent police, now youth aid can also rely on an emotional care dog. “Sam clearly highlights innovation within youth aid,” says Niels Heselmans, spokesperson for Opgroeien. Because of their different backgrounds, a live-in group is, to say the least, a place where young people’s emotions can sometimes take over. During his first few months, Sam has already proved that, just by being there, he can impact a ‘situation’ and build strong bonds. Moreover, as an official facility dog, Sam will also have access to the juvenile court; even during a hearing, young people can share their stress with Sam. That can make a difference to a lot of kids.”
Orginal article from Opgroeien (Vlaamse Overheid), translated from Dutch to English.
 Handi’Chiens, « Un chien d’assistance judiciaire dans chaque département » pour le soutien aux victimes annonce le Ministre de la Justice, 21 Decembre 2022, available online : https://handichiens.org/un-chien-dassistance-judiciaire-dans-chaque-departement/
 Convention nationale relative au déploiement du chien d’assistance judiciaire, Ministère de la Justice, February 2023, http://www.justice.gouv.fr/art_pix/convention_nationale_chien_assistance_judiciaire.pdf
 Le chien d’assistance judiciaire : un soutien pour les victimes, 13 February 2023, http://www.justice.gouv.fr/delegation-interministerielle-daide-aux-victimes-12894/le-chien-dassistance-judiciaire-un-soutien-pour-les-victimes-34754.html