Should Therapy Dogs Be Allowed in the Courtroom - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

Therapy dogs have been helping people overcome anxiety for many years. Victims of anxiety, depression and other mood disorders often find more relief from interacting with a trained therapy dog than they do from medications. (Of course, therapy dogs have their own set of “side effects,” but they’re nothing a vacuum cleaner and a few plastic baggies can’t handle.)

Therapy Dogs for Trauma Victims

In addition to chronic anxiety sufferers, therapy dogs help victims of crime and other traumatic events. Children may not have the words or the emotional maturity to benefit from traditional therapy in the same way as adults, but they seem to respond particularly well to their canine therapists.

A Canadian Labrador Retriever named Hawk helped comfort two children who testified in a sexual abuse trial in Calgary. Hawk sat calmly beside a seven-year-old girl and her nine-year-old brother while each provided testimony in the 2014 court case. His calming effect was clearly evident with the girl, who petted him during questioning.

Putting Witnesses at Ease

In this particular case, both children had several play dates with Hawk before the trial, getting to know the dog ahead of time. The friendly, well-trained police dog has helped many victims of crimes and accidents during his distinguished career. This particular trial was Hawk’s first opportunity to assist in a court case.

Soothing crime witnesses and victims in court could become a new role for Hawk, given his success in helping the young girl testify. A number of therapy dogs in the U.S. have accompanied young court witnesses. In many cases, children form an immediate, trusting bond with a dog in a way they might not with a human helper.

Not Just Any Dog will Do

Animal-assisted therapy is nothing new. Specially trained animals have been helping disabled and traumatized humans for decades. Knowledgeable trainers select puppies and young dogs that demonstrate superior intuition, empathy and intellect, and train them to perform specific tasks.

Since therapy dogs are helping witnesses provide comprehensive testimony in court, this could become an emerging role for these canines.

What do you think? Should the use of therapy dogs become more widespread in U.S. courts, or are we doing just fine without them? I’d love to hear your ideas, so join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter!

Carlos Gamino