By KATHY PERRY
Gordon was a truly exceptional dog.
First and foremost, he was my most faithful companion. He was born after the death of my husband Rick, who before he died, chosen both his Kennel and call names.
More than anyone, Rick knew I wanted to have a dog I could train to be the first dog in Ontario, other than a personal Service Dog, used as a Testimonial Aid in the criminal courts where I worked with Victims of Violence.
Not only did Rick name Gordon, but he also chose him. Our girl Kelly was pregnant with her first litter. In the late stages of esophageal cancer, knowing he would not live to see the puppies, Rick told me I must be present at the birth and that I must choose the first boy to be my Court Dog.
He asked me to call him Gordon after a wonderful therapist we know whose specialty is traumatized people, and for his Kennel name, Legacy in Memories. “Everyone wants to leave behind a legacy they can be proud of,” said Rick. “Gordon will be mine.”
Rick died on May 26, 2009. Gordon was born on July 17. Out of a litter of eight he was the first boy.
The next six years I continued my mission to convince the criminal justice system of the benefits to the court process of having a trained, certified dog be an option for victims who faced the often re-traumatizing task of testifying.
In the meantime, Gordon and I worked diligently to get him to the point he would be able to sit with a victim in court for long stretches of time without being a distraction, which was one of the major concerns being expressed to me by those in the system.
With the backing of my superiors in the Victims and Vulnerable Persons Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General, my co-workers at the Victim Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) in Brampton, the Brampton Crown’s office, and Peel Regional Police, along with the support of Therapeutic Paws of Canada who certified and insured us, in 2015 Gordon joined the VWAP staff as the first Court Dog in Ontario who was attached to a branch of the Attorney General. He even had a budget!
Over the next six years Gordon went on to set the precedent for the use of dogs as Testimonial Aids that have impacted cases in Ontario and beyond.
In November 2015 he was the first dog in Canada permitted to sit in open court with an adult victim. The following year he was the first dog in Canada permitted to sit with an adult testifying in the presence of a jury, a process that had become increasingly common in the United States but that many said would never be permitted in Canada.
Gordon’s court appearances resulted in two legal rulings supporting the use of dogs as Testimonial Aids.
In 2016 Gordon and I were invited to present at the Superior Court Judge’s Annual Spring Conference in Ottawa regarding the use of Court Dogs in cases of human trafficking. The following year we were invited by Justice Canada to return to Ottawa to present at the National Symposium on the use of Testimonial Aids where Gordon represented all Court Dogs in Canada.
Also in 2016, Gordon and I were honoured to be presented with the Prix Excelsior Award of Excellence in the Innovations Category by the Attorney General.
During his time at VWAP, Gordon touched countless lives. Not only those of his clients, but the entire criminal justice system in Peel. He truly became the mascot of the courthouse. It was not unusual for all manner of court staff, including police, Crowns, Judges and even some defence counsel, to ask to spend time with Gordon.
He also worked on several cases across the GTA where his reputation preceded him. His calm demeanour and innate ability to walk into a room and without any prompting from me, go directly to the person he was there to support and then stay by their side for as long as they were with him became the stuff of legend.
It was my practice to give each of Gordon’s clients a picture of him at the end of our first meeting. I called it ‘Gordon smiling’. I would tell them to keep it with them as a reminder that as worried or frightened as they were at the thought of having to return to court weeks, sometimes months later, they would know Gordon would be waiting for them. Inevitably when we saw them again, no matter how long it had been, one of the first things the client would do was produce their picture of Gordon.
“I still have it!” they would say and go on to tell me where they had kept it, usually a place where they would see it often. Some on their fridge, or bathroom mirror. One above her bed. “It’s the first thing I see when I wake up dreaming about court,” she said. “It helps calm me down.”
In a particularly difficult case, the victim had disappeared after the preliminary inquiry. A recovering drug addict, testifying about the abuse she had suffered had been so debilitating that we were aware she had relapsed and ended up on the street. When the officer in charge of the case found her, she was in hospital; having overdosed. The officer and the Crown went to see her, and she told them she had lost everything — her children, her home, her husband.
“I have three things,” she said. “My wallet, my picture of my kids and my picture of Gordon.”
After 21 years I retired from VWAP at the end of 2019, but as Gordon had cases scheduled to be in court over the next several months, we went back as volunteers until COVID forced us to stop in March of 2020. It was difficult knowing that meant the victims who had counted on Gordon’s presence when they came to court would now have to continue without him.
When we stopped there was one human trafficking case that had me especially worried. The young victim had relied heavily on Gordon at several prior court appearances, and I knew she would be extremely upset he would not be with her at the upcoming trial.
One day, after the trial had started, I received an email from the VWAP worker supporting our victim. Attached was a picture taken during a break in proceedings. It showed the back of the victim, thus protecting her identity. She was testifying from a closed court via CCTV. She was sitting at counsel table. Laid out in front of her were court transcripts, a bottle of water and leaning against the microphone was the picture of Gordon. “You see,” said my former co-worker. “Gordon’s still working.”
Like many of us, retirement did not sit well with Gordon. Even as his body slowed and getting around became increasingly difficult, he would still muster the energy to bring me a ball to throw, or to wrestle with JT, his younger brother.
As the restrictions concerning COVID relaxed, I decided to have JT certified as a Therapy Dog. As we were waiting to receive JT’’s vest, I obtained permission to use Gordon’s vest when we went out for visits. I noticed that every time I picked up the vest, no matter how tired or slow Gordon was, his head would come up, he would struggle to his feet and make his way to me, tail waving with the familiar glint in his eyes that said “Great, we’re working!” When he saw I was putting the vest on JT he would return to his favourite spot on the couch, curl up, and sigh.
Eventually I decided to leave the vest in my car so when we left it would not be so clear to Gordon what we were doing. One day in my haste to leave I forgot and grabbed a vest from the closet. When I reached the van,, I realized the correct vest was there and I had mistakenly picked up Gordon’s court vest. I tossed the court vest in a corner of the van.
As time passed, Gordon’s s deterioration became increasingly evident. As difficult as it was I knew the time was coming, though as all of us who have been through this know, no matter how much time we have with them, it is never enough.
That last day, when I helped Gordon into the back of my van out of the corner of eye I saw a flash of red. It was Gordon’s court vest. I reached over and picked it up.
Exhausted from the effort it had taken to get from the house to the van, Gordon was lying with his eyes closed. Sensing my movement as I picked up the vest, he opened his eyes. Seeing what I was holding his tail thumped on the van floor. I placed the vest next to his head and he nestled against it and closed his eyes with a contented sigh.
Parked in front of the vet’s office I opened the back to help Gordon out. He pulled himself to his feet and looked at me expectantly.
“OK,”I said to him. “Why not.”
I lifted him to the sidewalk and bracing himself against my legs, Gordon stood as I put on his vest for the last time.
As we walked slowly into the office, Gordon’’s head came up, his tail waved and he looked at me with that glint in his eyes. “Great, we’re working!”
Gordon, (Can Ch Labyrinth’s Legacy in Memories) died peacefully on June 13, 2023. He was a month shy of his 14th birthday.
— Kathy Perry is a longtime southwest Scarborough resident.