Swearing in ceremony - Office of the District Attorney for the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit
On January 16, 2024, for the first time in the state of Georgia, therapy dogs were sworn in, got their badges, and are getting to work at the courthouse, comforting staff and crime victims. DeKalb County Probate Court Judge Bedelia C Hargrove presided over our official swearing-in ceremony. These seven teams of dogs and their humans have already made a paws-itive impact in the DA's office. We visit once a month to spend time with the staff for stress-buster events and offer much needed comfort to crime victims during interviews and trial preparations.
Therapy Animals in Courthouses & Courtrooms
Walking into a courtroom can be daunting for any witness, particularly a child. A child’s fear of testifying publicly about private and embarrassing events can be intensified when having to see the defendant in the courtroom. Moreover, strangers sitting in the audience, in the jury box, at the parties’ tables — not to mention a stranger in a black robe sitting high up and towering over everyone — can be overwhelming to a child. The image would make most adult witnesses start to feel nervous. Therapy animals helping a child both inside and outside the courtroom can calm a child, thus resulting in more efficient and accurate testimony — and less trauma to the child. When prosecutors, judges and court staff appreciate the benefit of therapy animals for child victims and witnesses, everyone wins.
Therapy Animals in Prosecutors’ Offices
A few prosecutors’ offices have been identified as incorporating therapy animals into the everyday practice of victim advocacy, trial preparation and trial testimony. Therapy animals can help ease this fear. Furthermore, children under the age of 10 have difficulty understanding common legal concepts such as courts, trials, attorneys, juries and judges. They do not have the cognitive ability to process that testimony is taken to determine guilt or innocence. This reduced cognitive understanding in children often increases their fear of having to testify. Making therapy animals available in a prosecutor’s office may help a child have more productive meetings with the prosecution staff, including during sessions that prepare the child to give testimony.
Our program is modeled after the Florida Courthouse Therapy Dog Program. The Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare Animal Therapy Program provides therapy dog teams at no cost to Florida's Second Judicial Circuit. The Second Judicial Circuit Courthouse Therapy Dog Program serves as a model for other jurisdictions. The Second Circuit helped lead the way for the first law in the United States allowing therapy dogs to accompany child victims and witnesses of sexual assault into the courtroom to enable them to give testimony during criminal trials. The law has since been expanded twice to include facility dogs and adult victims of violent crimes. The Second Circuit has assisted 15 of the twenty judicial circuits of the State of Florida in planning similar programs and took the lead in drafting statewide recommendations for using therapy dogs in dependency courts. CAREing Paws would like to thank Stephanie Perkins and Chuck Mitchell for sharing your wisdom, experience and program with us. We are eternally grateful for your support and encouragement.