Canine Companions To Be Allowed In Court, For Kids' Comfort

Dec 21, 2015

Credit Herwig Kavallar, Creative Commons

It can be scary for a victim of sexual abuse to have to testify about it in court; a state law taking effect in the New Year is meant to give them comfort. With it, children will be able to bring canine companions with them to court.

With a judge's okay, kids will be able to have a therapy dog with them when they take the witness stand.

"When you have cases where the children have to testify as victims in -- particularly on sensitive matters -- they can be embarrassed, they can be distracted. And one advantage to this is ... you get the little piece of mind by having the dog there, and they can actually get to sit on the stand and tell their story to the jury,"said Sen. Scott Bennett, the law's sponsor, and a former prosecutor.

"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," Bennett, a Democrat from Champaign, says dogs can be trained to do that.

This law requires it; participating dogs have to have graduated from a specific program. Bennett says one of these dogs -- a young lab - came to the capitol, for an early debate on the measure "and had him just sit in the well, throughout the entire hearing. 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."

Courts can also allow adults with intellectual disabilities to have a service dog at their side. Several other states have similar laws.