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Md. pilot program introducing courthouse dogs for child witnesses

A pilot program that brings dogs into the courthouse to help children during court proceedings is in two Maryland circuit courts.

The Courthouse Dog and Child Witness Pilot Program is now available within Anne Arundel and Harford County circuit courts and allows facility and therapy dogs to accompany child witnesses  testifying or appearing in court in criminal or civil cases, the Maryland Judiciary announced Thursday.

Witnesses eligible for the program will be identified by state attorney’s offices, a best interest attorney or a volunteer with the Court Appointed Special Advocate. The request must be made in writing to the court and will go before the court’s administrative judge for approval, the court administrator for the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court said.

Both courts have yet to use to the program, but expect to get requests in the coming months, the Judiciary said.

“We’re looking forward to receiving requests because we’ve seen how helpful dogs can be in easing the stress of children who come to court,” said Harford County Circuit Administrative Judge Angela Eaves in a statement.

State Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, sponsored a bill that passed in the 2017 General Assembly session to allow therapy support dogs to accompany child witnesses. The previous session, lawmakers passed a bill that allowed Anne Arundel and Harford counties study the feasibility of using trained dogs in courts to help children testifyng in criminal cases, the Capital Gazette reported.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Court worked with the Caring Canines Pet Therapy team to implement its pilot program. Caring Canines, a pet therapy program by Dogwood Acres Pet Retreat in Davidsonville, program provides certified pet therapy teams to communities in need, the Judiciary said.

“The Dogwood Acres and Caring Canines teams are thrilled to see this program up and running,” said Erin Bogan, marketing director for Dogwood Acres Pet Retreat, in a statement. “It has been a long-time dream for us to see our amazing dogs helping those in the court system who may need extra support to make their experience less traumatic.”

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