More Lessons from the Therapy Dog

Categories: Access to Justice, customer journey mapping, Empathy, human behaviour, human centred design, Systems thinking, User Centred

Two years ago I published a piece on entitled Seeing (And Feeling) the Family Justice System Through the Eyes of the Therapy Dog about Ollie the therapy dog who visited the Kamloops courthouse on “family remand day”.

One comment on that post really stuck in my mind.  It was from a family lawyer who provided a moving and insightful perspective of the experience of both families and counsel in this context:

“Ollie the Dog is to the canary as British Columbia Provincial Court Family Remand Day is to the coal mine. And this canary is no more; he is deceased; he has ceased to be; he has snuffed it.

British Columbia Provincial Court Family Remand Day. I shudder to write the very words. It has been a Kafkaesque living nightmare everywhere it has been my grim duty to attend. There the legal system dumps the most marginalized among us, in the throes of family crisis, all in a throng of anxiety, sadness, anger and above all confusion.

Government tells these unfortunates, “Welcome to the Process. It is an Adversarial Process, as is tradition. There exists no political will to end your suffering.”

Of course Ollie wilted after less than an hour. I expect that if cows were aware of their own mortality, Ollie would get similar results at a slaughterhouse. When the good dog ministers in hospital to the sick and the dying, those patients know what they are going through. They know they have nurses and doctors to care for them, and that their medical bills are covered.

That’s because medical system provides care. While many of the clerks, sheriffs, librarians, judges, and even lawyers are caring people, they remain agents within a legal system that provides a gladiatorial arena. That’s our great shame and failure. The legal system is not set up to provide care.”

It is not just the public who are calling for change; those of us who are “insiders” are also insisting that significant (transformational) change is needed in order to preserve the well-being of families and their children. That is what the Lab is trying to do and it is heartening to see some other promising efforts that aim to recreate the system with the best interests of families in mind [2].

[1] Name changed to protect the innocent. Image courtesy of Paige Butterfield:

[2] One example is The Victoria Early Resolution and Case Management Prototype: