Beginning in 2016, therapy dogs will be available to children who need to testify during difficult cases, like hearings involving domestic or sexual abuse. Under the new law, therapy dogs will be available to kids who are asked to testify if the dog’s presence is approved by the judge.
The therapy dogs will likely have a noticeable presence in the courtroom, but Democratic Senator Scott Bennett, who sponsored the bill, said the dogs cannot become a distraction. He said all of the therapy dogs will need to graduate from a specific program before they will be made available to children who have to testify.
“You don’t want it to be a sideshow in the courtroom; it has to be up to the level of decorum that we expect,” said Bennett.
Dogs in the Courtroom
In an effort to prove that these therapy dogs could handle a day full of legal proceedings, Bennett arranged for one of the dogs to attend a special session at the capital where legislators were to discuss the therapy dog proposal. Bennett said the dog was one of the most professional members of the meeting.
“[We brought a therapy dog in] and had him just sit in the well, throughout the entire hearing,” Bennett said. “And at one point one of the committee members, even mentioned that he was concerned about the dog’s welfare, it was so docile, it was so calm.”
In addition to allowing children to be comforted by therapy dogs in the courtroom, judges can also allow adults with intellectual disabilities to have service dogs by their side during trial.
The laws will go into place on January 1, 2016.
Related source: Northern Public Radio