Staff and volunteers at NSPCC Northern Ireland are mourning the passing of Connie, their first and so far only assistance dog, after a short illness.
The gorgeous black Labrador, who was almost nine years old, was loved by everyone who met her and played a vital role with the charity’s Young Witness Service (YWS).
The service, which is based in Northern Ireland, and is the only one of its kind in the UK, assists children and young people under 18 who are required to attend court as prosecution witnesses.
NSPCC NI’s Young Witness Service operates in every local crown, magistrates’ and youth court in Northern Ireland.
Connie was trained by Assistance Dogs Northern Ireland, but after being diagnosed with hip dysplasia, she wasn’t able to follow the normal route of an assistance dog and it was decided that she would be perfect to help young people in the Young Witness Service.
She joined YWS in 2015 and served until the Covid-19 lockdown began in 2020.
As a trained assistance dog, she was happy to play with the children for hours, let them pat her head or just sit beside them as a reassuring presence, keeping them company during the inevitable periods of waiting during court cases.
Billy Eagleson, Volunteer Co-ordinator at the service, said: “Going to court can be a very intimidating and frightening experience for anyone, but even more so for young people as it’s such a strange and unfamiliar environment.
“The Young Witness Service was set up because we recognised this, and we wanted to be able to support children and young people who needed to attend court to give evidence.
“Since we started in 1999, we have recruited and trained a truly amazing group of volunteers who work alongside paid staff to support these children and young people.
“Our volunteers come from all walks of life and are at many different stages of their careers.
“However, we have only ever had one volunteer with four legs and a wagging tail – Connie!
“I can’t tell you what a fabulous, friendly, intelligent and fun dog she was, and what a positive difference she made to the experiences of so many children.
“We’re so hugely grateful to Annie, her owner, for allowing us to have her and we have such happy memories of Connie wandering around our offices and the delight of the young people when they met her.
“Annie, a Young Witness Service volunteer herself, gave a huge amount of her own time to YWS, travelling around Northern Ireland covering cases with Connie, and we can’t thank her enough.
“Annie and the YWS team would like to thank Linda Glenn Vets, Bangor, who took care of Connie, and also Josie McKnight from Vet Rehab NI.”
Billy added: “We would love to have another assistance dog, but we also need more human beings to volunteer so that we can continue to offer the service to every young person who needs it.
“To become a volunteer, you need to have at least one year’s experience in a caring or supportive role, have availability during normal court operating hours (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday) and must be able to commit to the role for at least one year after completion of training.
“It’s a really worthwhile and important role, providing practical help to many children and their families throughout Northern Ireland.”
n For more information about becoming a Young Witness Volunteer go to
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