Courthouse Facility Dogs in Chile

In 2009, while presenting at an Assistance Dogs International conference about how facility dogs assist sexually abused children in the criminal justice system, a hand shot up from the back of the audience and Ellen heard the question, “Would you come to Chile to talk about this?”  The voice belonged to Cecilia Marre, the executive director of Corporacion Bocalan Confiar, an assistance dog organization located in Santiago.

That question was the genesis of Chilean facility dogs (Perros de Asistencia Judicial) working with the family-crime investigation unit of the Policía de Investigaciones de Chile (PDI) and was also the the inspiration for “Courthouse Dogs Go South” that Ellen wrote for Bark Magazine about their trip to Santiago to help establish this program.

Detective Karla Balloquim and Take at the Brigada de Delitos Sexuales at PDI.


After our meeting with PDI, Cecilia Marre and her staff determined that Bocalon Confiar would be able to assist the police by bringing several of their hand- picked dogs to work with the detectives that were investigating sexual offenses against children. The detectives also received training on how to handle the dogs to improve the bond between them and the children.

Since then, their program has continued to grow. In 2010 PDI published this article in their Detective publication. Perros de Asistencia Judicial: Ayudantes policiales en la investigación de delitos sexuales (Judicial Assistance Dogs: Police aides in the investigation of sex crimes)
In 2011 Celeste and Ellen revisited Chile and learned that Bocalan Confiar’s facility dog program had spread to the dogs assisting children in the courthouse. Cecilia introduced us to Family Court Judge Alejandra Valencia who explained that Peseta’s presence in the courtroom made it much easier for her to interview the children and learn more about what legal actions would be in their best interests.

Cecilia Marre, Peseta and Family Court Judge Alejandra Valencia in the courtroom.

After chatting with Judge Valencia, she and the presiding Family Court Judge Pedro Garcia took us to the impressive Supreme Courthouse to meet the Supreme Court Family Justice Minister Hector Carreno Seaman who firmly supported the work of Perros Asistencia Judicial.

Ellen O’Neill-Stephens, Celeste Walsen, Seattle Police Department videographer Cesar Hidalgo-Landeros and Cecilia Marre meet Chilean Supreme Court Justice Hector Carreno Seaman (third from the left) and Santiago Family Court Judges Pedro Garcia (second from the right) and Alejandra Valencia (far left).

Now Cecilia reports that her dogs Take, Candela, Isard and Peseta are assisting Chile’s Public Prosecutors in criminal trials. There are no jury trials in Chile, criminal cases are decided by a panel of three judges.  In a recent case Bocalon Confiar dogs were able to provide emotional support to three sisters ages 10, 8 and 6 years old, when they had to testify against their father who had sexually assaulted them.  Each girl testified with a different dog on the same day. Although the sisters were emotionally traumatized by their experiences to the point of being suicidal, a sleepy Isard broke the tension in court when he slid off his elevated resting place and made a slow descent to the floor. He woke up surprised to hear laughter, and then settled himself down on the floor next to the girl’s feet as the trial continued.

For more information about Bocalon Confiar’s Perros Asistencia Judicial visit their website at

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