Recently, Maryland enacted legislation to expand the use of facility and therapy dogs for child witnesses. Maryland Senate Bill (SB) 101 is a pilot program implemented in Anne Arundel County and Harford County Circuit Courts to help ease the emotional distress of child witnesses with facility dogs or therapy dogs trained by qualified organizations.
The Ann Arundel County program differentiated "facility dogs" and "therapy dogs":
The facility dog must have completed the following qualifications:
- Certification by a program that trains dogs for the purpose of reducing stress in a child witness
- Complete two years of training,
- Pass the same public access test as a service dog, and
- Be teamed with a qualified facility dog handler.
Therapy dogs need to complete the following qualifications:
- Received training to provide affection and comfort to children who need emotional support, and
- Be teamed with a qualified therapy dog handler.
In addition, approval from the administrative judge is required to use dogs in the court.
Based on the success of the pilot programs in both Anne Arundel and Harford counties, Maryland Senate Bill 101 has gained support from the Anne Arundel County’s State Attorney’s Office. The bill provides for voluntary participation, so the program can be implemented by any Maryland court jurisdiction wishing to participate.
This issue is not new to the courts, The National Center for State Courts discussed the issue of support animals in Trends: Close Up, December 2016. The article examined the application of the ADA regulations on Service and Support Animals in the courthouse.
For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.