Kent County courts are now offering support dogs for children and adult special needs victims who have to testify in court. This new program came to fruition after Public Act 236 went into effect less than a week ago that allows dogs to be used by courts in Michigan.
Since the program kicked off last Wednesday, 24 pooches are available at the Kent County District Court on the East Beltline, the 61st District and Kent County circuit courts downtown to provide comfort for victims of crime.
Wood TV8 reports that many victims of crime say that testifying in court can be nearly as traumatizing as the event itself. “They’ve already gone through an initial trauma and coming back to retell their story so that justice can be served shouldn’t also be an additional trauma,” Kent County Circuit Judge Kathleen Feeney tells the outlet.
The courthouse plans to introduce the program gradually, which begins with limiting the victim’s interactions with the dogs to before and after their testimony only. If all goes well, dogs will be permitted to sit with the victim while court is in session.
“By having the therapy dogs available for them as they’re waiting as they come to court ... [it] will help them to remain calm, to not see this as a terrifying experience to add to their trauma,” Feeney tells the outlet.
With the passing of Public Act 236, Michigan now joins 35 other states that allow the practice in more than 155 courtrooms.
“It’s not just we’re guessing, there’s empirical evidence to support the fact that having dogs there provides this calming influence,” Feeney tells Wood TV8.
Each therapy dog used at Kent County courts will receive weeks of training from West Michigan Therapy Dogs, which includes the use of a staged courtroom and a child actor to represent the victim.
“Anything unexpected that happens isn’t gonna rattle them, they’re not gonna have an adverse reaction because they’ve been through so much training,” Paula Nelson, vice president of West Michigan Therapy Dogs, tells the outlet.
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