'Therapy dogs' now allowed for children in court

PHOENIX, AZ (AP) -- Child victims in Arizona now have the right to have a dog at their side to comfort them during court testimony under a bill recently signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey.

Judges in Maricopa and Pima counties have allowed the so-called “facility dogs” or “therapy dogs” in their courtrooms for years, but now all courts will be required to under HB2375, which sailed through the Legislature on unanimous votes.

The law, which takes effect Aug. 6, also gives judges discretion in allowing the dogs during the testimony of adult victims and witnesses. To prevent unduly influence on the jury, the judge is required to explain to jurors why the dog is in the courtroom and that it’s a trained animal.

Defense attorneys over the years have contested the use of the dogs in individual cases, saying they garner sympathy for the victim, and judges have refused to allow them in a small number of cases.

Appellate courts have upheld their use in other states.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has a K9 Victim Support Unit, which has three service dogs who are cared for by victim advocates in the office.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a press release he’s excited the new law allows the success of his office’s program to expand to benefit victims statewide.

“Our canines have worked with victims in the most traumatic situations, and I can attest to the fact that having a therapy dog by their side truly helps these individuals find comfort and gain courage to testify before a court,” Montgomery said.