Retirement ceremony with a difference!

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From time to time retirement ceremonies are held in BC courthouses to honour a retiring judge. Colleagues, court staff, and others gather in a courtroom on the judge’s last sitting day and say mostly kind things. On June 6, 2022, staff at the Penticton courthouse organized a retirement ceremony with a difference - the retiree they were honouring was a dog!

Canine support for victims and witnesses

Calypso is an Accredited Facility Dog, trained and certified by the Pacific Assistance Dog Society to help community care professionals in their work. A nine year old golden lab-golden retriever cross, she’s worked with Dede Dacyk, manager of the Penticton RCMP victim assistance program, for the last six years to provide comfort and emotional support to victims and witnesses in stressful circumstances including interviews with lawyers and testifying in court.

BC courts first “went to the dogs” after the Delta Police Department enlisted Caber as Canada’s first accredited victim assistance dog in 2010. In 2013 Caber began accompanying witnesses to courthouses for interviews with prosecutors. In 2015 he began supporting young witnesses by sitting at their feet while they testified in Provincial Court in Surrey, and in 2018 Caber made his first appearance in BC Supreme Court.

When Calypso began working with Ms. Dacyk in 2016, she was the first Accredited Facility Dog to join an RCMP victim services program in BC. In 2021 Ms. Dacyk received a Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award from the provincial government for her work.

Unique retirement ceremony

After learning of Calypso’s impending retirement, staff at the Penticton courthouse decided a ceremony should be held – with dogs welcome to accompany their humans. Sheriffs made “a dog cake” for the canine guests, and court registry staff made dog-themed cupcakes for the others.

The event was fun, but it was also touching – as Judge Gregory Koturbash said in his tribute to Calypso, “We will miss Calypso; she had a knack, like many dogs, for sniffing out anxiety, making eye contact, and letting the person know things would be okay.”

Judge Koturbash expanded on this in a speech at the event, saying:

“For many people, coming to the courthouse can be an extremely stressful event - for some it can be the worst day of their life. They are facing incarceration, testifying about intimate personal events, the possibility of losing their children, or the end of their marriage.

It is sometimes easy for those of us who work here every day to forget how difficult the day might be for the person appearing. Dogs like Calypso bring a measure of calm, and reassurance to people that things are going to be okay.

I recall engaging with one gentleman who was distraught and angry about appearing in court, when Calypso and Dede walked into the courtroom. I have a habit of always greeting Calypso when he arrives. When I did that, the man also turned, made eye contact with Calypso, gave a brief laugh of surprise, and smiled. You could feel the angry emotions in the room evaporate."

Lawyers must apply to a judge for permission to have an accredited dog accompany a witness while they testify. Judge Koturbash noted that those applications were rarely opposed.

He continued, “Dogs like Calpyso do not change the outcomes in cases, but in dire situations they can make the experience less intimidating and more human. And even if only in a very small way we can improve the experience for our litigants, that is a win.”

Addressing Calypso, the judge concluded, “You were born a service dog, but are retired a friend to us all. We wish you many happy tails.”

For more on accredited dogs in court, see:

Going to the dogs: Canine Assisted Intervention Dogs in the Justice System – eNews 2015
Update on Canine Assisted Intervention Dogs in BC Courts – eNews 2018