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Dogs That Are Welcome in Courtrooms

You have heard about service dogs, but have you heard about the dogs that are welcome in Courtrooms? Therapy dogs that are specially trained are brought into the courtroom in some cases and in some courts, to soothe and inspire frightened or uncomfortable witnesses (often victims of crime) to testify clearly about their experience.Dogs that are welcome in courtrooms - Altizer Law

In some areas, courthouse facility dogs are only present during depositions. In other areas, dogs are brought into the courtroom to comfort witnesses. Imagine, if you will, the trauma of a child that has been the victim of sexual abuse and must testify in court about what happened to her. In most of these cases (and in other cases of violent crime) the victim must relate the events of the crime in very explicit detail. This is very difficult for most people to do in open court. Often, it is difficult to obtain the full and detailed testimony needed. In cases of this kind, calming the witness is important to their ability to offer the information needed.

Most of us who have spent time around dogs fully understand their calming effect on people. There is something in the act of petting a dog that soothes many people. When a courthouse facility dog is brought into the courtroom, their soothing presence makes it much easier for witnesses to testify.

Dogs that are welcome in courtrooms are a relatively new thing for most courts. Most of us have seen the growth of the use of assistance dogs, guide dogs, and therapy dogs to assist humans in many ways. Introducing dogs to courtrooms is a rapidly growing movement in the U.S. The dogs are trained to sit silently beside a witness or victim. While testifying, many witnesses find strength and calmness to testify by reaching down and touching or petting the dog.

The use of dogs in attorney’s offices and in courtrooms is particularly helpful for children who have already been traumatized by the crime. The dogs help them tell the story they must tell without being thoroughly traumatized again.

Legislation has been introduced in the Virginia Legislature to enact a law that permits the use and presence of Courthouse facility dogs in the Commonwealth. At last report Virginia House of Delegates Bill 482 and Virginia Senate Bill 420 have each been passed. When the two bills are reconciled it is expected that it will pass in both houses.

Today, more than 150 courthouse facility dogs are working in 35 states. Several courts and support agencies use dogs in Virginia. These include:

  • Child Abuse Program, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Norfolk
  • Children’s Advocacy Center of Bristol/Washington County
  • Children’s Trust of Roanoke Valley
  • Stafford County Commonwealth’s Attorney
  • Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney
  • Albemarle County Commonwealth’ Attorney
  • Staunton County Commonwealth’s Attorney
  • SafeSpot Children’s Advocacy Center of Fairfax County

You can learn more about a Bristol attorney and Nomad, her courthouse facility dog, here. You can learn more about courthouse dogs and jurisdictions using from the Courthouse Dogs Foundation. For a gallery of photos showing courthouse dogs at work click here.

What do you think about dogs that are welcome in the courtroom?