Washington–Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to introduce the Courtroom Dogs Act, which would clarify federal judges’ authority to allow certified facility dogs in courtrooms during legal proceedings. This legislation is based on the successful efforts of many states around the nation and guidance from experts in the field.
“Testifying in court can be traumatic, especially for young victims,” said Sen. Feinstein. “Certain service dogs are trained to help witnesses feel safe and comfortable while providing testimony. That’s why I’m happy to cosponsor this legislation to allow certified facility dogs to accompany witnesses on the stand.”
“Testifying in court can be a stressful experience for many, and especially children who may be asked to recall traumatic memories,” said Sen. Cornyn. “By allowing trained dogs to sit with witnesses, we can ease stress, help witnesses feel safe to share their stories, and ultimately promote justice.”
Background on the Courtroom Dogs Act:
When vulnerable witnesses testify, they often experience emotional trauma that impairs their ability to participate, think, or answer questions. The effects on children who have witnessed and experienced violence can be particularly significant. The use of dogs in the courtroom and other criminal justice settings has increased in recent years, because the dogs provide support and aid in calming victims. There is significant scientific evidence for the physical and mental calming effects of appropriately bred and trained dogs, both short-term and long term. Petting an animal produces short-term decreases in blood pressure, and can also improve psychological health long-term.
Without consistency at the federal level, witnesses, especially children, will not have access to this important tool to aid them when giving testimony about traumatic experiences. The Courtroom Dogs Act would require DOJ to issue guidelines for consistent practice when using dogs in court. These guidelines would ensure that more witnesses have access, that there is not prejudice or risk, and that court proceedings will function well.
The Courtroom Dogs Act is supported by the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, the National District Attorneys Association, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.