Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County
Procedures for Therapy and Facility Dogs in Criminal or Civil Cases Involving Child Witnesses
The Courthouse Dog and Child Witness Pilot Program is operational in two circuit courts - the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County and the Circuit Court for Harford County. This pilot is a program to allow facility and therapy dogs in the courts for child witnesses who are testifying or appearing in court in criminal or civil cases.
Specific eligible witnesses will be identified by the state attorney's office, best interest attorney, or CASA volunteer in a case who will make a request in writing utilizing the attached form to be ruled on by the Administrative Judge. Except when otherwise required by law, dogs are not permitted in any courtroom unless prior approval is obtained from the Administrative Judge.
Child Witness - A witness who is a minor when the witness testifies in a criminal or civil court proceeding.
Facility Dogs: A dog who has been certified by an assistance dog organization that trains dogs for the purpose of reducing stress in a child witness; received two years of training; passed the same public access test as a service dog; and been teamed with a facility dog handler. It is the responsibility of the requesting party to provide certification to the court that the facility dog used in the courtroom meets these guidelines.
Facility Dog Handlers: A person who has been trained in offering the person's animal for assistance purposes from an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International or an equivalent organization and on court protocol and policies.
Therapy Dogs: All therapy dogs must have received training to provide affection and comfort to children who need emotional support and been teamed with a therapy dog handler. It is the responsibility of the requesting party and not the court to ensure that any therapy dog used in the courtroom meets these guidelines.
Therapy Dog Handlers: All therapy dog handlers must have been trained in offering the person's animal for assistance purposes from an organization that insures, registers or certifies therapy dogs and their handlers and on court protocol and policies.
Confidentiality: Therapy and facility dog handlers will agree to maintain the confidentiality of all information including, but not limited, to information pertaining to child witnesses and their families received through the scope of interaction with the child witness and the case, both written and verbal.
A facility dog is qualified to act as an aid to a victim-witness only if the dog has completed all of the following qualifications:
- been certified by a program of an assistance dog organization that trains dogs for the purpose of reducing stress in a child witness;
- received two (2) years of training;
- passed the same public access test as a service dog; and
- has been teamed with a qualified facility dog handler.
- the Court currently recognizes the following training programs and institutions as meeting the criteria for the first two requirements:
• American Kennel Club (AKC)
• Canine Companions for Independence (CCI)
• A service dog organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI).
Other programs may be acceptable upon inquiry.
A therapy dog is qualified to act as an aid to a victim-witness only if the dog has completed all of the following qualifications:
• received training to provide affection and comfort to children who need emotional support; and
• has been teamed with a qualified therapy dog handler.
Any party that requests the use of a facility or therapy dog must be able to demonstrate and produce documentation that the facility or therapy dog they intend to use meets all qualifications. Without proof that the facility or therapy dog has met the qualifications, the dog will not be allowed into the courthouse.
A facility/therapy dog handler is qualified only upon a demonstration that they have received training in offering the person's animal assistance purposes from an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International or an equivalent organization. All facility/therapy dog handlers must also have training on this Court's protocols and polices, including the expected role of an animal assistance team and how not to interfere with evidence collection or the effective administration of justice. Facility/therapy dog handlers may meet these qualifications by submitting:
• certificates of completion
• the acknowledgment of the Court's Protocols and Policies
• the oath of confidentiality
III. PRIOR WRITTEN APPROVAL OF ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE REQUIRED
A request for use of a facility or therapy dog must be made in writing to the Administrative Judge. The request must be given with a minimum of 30 days advance notice of the date of testimony to allow the Court and Office of the Court Administrator to coordinate the request. The lead time will also give the victim-witness an opportunity to become familiar with the dog before the proceeding. There must be prior written approval by the administrative judge for use of a facility/therapy dog for child witnesses in criminal and civil cases in the courthouse.
Lastly, the Court strongly urges a proactive approach to courthouse preparation and coordination. A calm atmosphere is important to the therapeutic effectiveness of a facility or therapy dog, which can be easily disrupted by last moment preparations or changes in plans.
IV. REQUESTS FOR A FACILITY/THERAPY DOG
Office of the Court Administrator
Courthouse Dog Program Coordinator
P.O. Box 2395
Annapolis, MD 21404-2395
If the requesting party does not have a facility/therapy dog, the court also has a partnership with the Caring Canines Pet Therapy Team - that option is available on the form when requesting the use of a facility/therapy dog. The request must include:
- The case name, number, and the party requesting the facility or therapy dog;
- The name, age, and gender of the victim-witness;
- The date and time the victim-witness is expected to testify;
- An estimated length of time the facility or therapy dog will be needed;
- A brief description of the need for a facility or therapy dog;
- The name and contact information of the handler and dog;
- The length of time that the handler and dog have served together as an handler-animal team;
- Proof of the certification or graduation from a program for both the handler and dog by a recognized facility pet training program;
- Proof of liability insurance for the dog;
- A signed oath of confidentiality by the handler;
- A statement that a relationship between the victim-witness and facility or therapy dog has been established in anticipation of testimony. If not, give the anticipated meeting date to establish this relationship. Establishing this bond is critical to the therapeutic effectiveness of the facility or therapy dog.
- Any other information that may be useful in selecting the most appropriate animal-handler team or scheduling their use.
Once a request has been approved, the Office of the Court Administrator will appoint a designated courthouse coordinator through which all preliminary arrangements will be made. These arrangements include, but are not limited to:
- Gathering all required paperwork from the requesting party or facility/therapy dog handler and ensuring all forms are completed at least ten (30) days before trial;
- Coordinating with Chambers staff the advance walk-through of the courtroom;
- Escorting the facility or therapy dog and handler to and from the entrance of the courthouse to an appropriate waiting area before heading to the courtroom.
V. GENERAL COURTROOM/CHAMBERS PROTOCOL
The requesting party is responsible for coordinating with the Office of the Court Administrator and Trial Judge's Chambers the timing of the dog's entrance and exit from the courthouse. A facility/therapy dog handler must be present with the dog in the courthouse/courtroom at all times.
The requesting party should plan on introducing both the victim-witness and the dog to the space where the testimony will be given a few days in advance. This will also allow the handler to receive instruction on where they and the facility or therapy dog should be located during testimony. On the day of the proceeding, the Trial Judge’s staff will also instruct the handler on the location of the waiting area for before and after the testimony. This advance visit should be scheduled with the courthouse coordinator as to minimize disruption of the Court's docket.
Where the facility or therapy dog should be placed during testimony depends on the nature of the witness box, the age and maturity of the victim-witness, the length and nature of testimony, the relationship between the victim-witness and dog, and the ability of the dog to refrain from distracting behavior. For most situations, having the dog within arm's reach of the victim-witness should be acceptable. A dog's presence may not set off any reactions or cause any commotion.
VI. SPECIFIC PROTOCOL FOR FACILITY/THERAPY DOG HANDLERS
Facility/Therapy dog handlers must agree to maintain the confidentiality of all information including, but not limited to, information pertaining to child witnesses and their families received through the scope of interaction with the child witness and the case, both written and verbal.
All dog handlers must sign the oath of confidentiality which must be turned into the designated courthouse coordinator. The requesting party may submit the signed form for the handler, but it is the handler's responsibility to sign and act according to the oath.
The handler-animal team must be covered by a liability insurance policy with limits not less than $500,000 from the certifying organization.
It is never appropriate for the handler to offer or agree to meet with victim-witness after their testimony. The handler will avoid being alone with a victim-witness and the facility or therapy dog. When needed, the handler must request the presence of a neutral third party. This is to protect the victim-witness, the facility or therapy dog, and the handler from liability, as well as to avoid conflict between the handler's role as a criminal justice professional and as an animal advocate.
Courthouses are extremely busy public buildings. Dog handlers are to be mindful of other occupants of the building and attempts are to be made to minimize contact with the public and other courthouse employees.
Handlers are responsible for the cleanliness of the facility or therapy dog while in courthouse. Handlers must have all items that the facility or therapy dog needs such as treats or food, toys, water, waste bags, etc. Handlers are to maintain required paperwork that qualifies the handler-animal team and other relevant information such as names and phone numbers of court staff.
VII. THE DAY-OF-TRIAL PROTOCOL
It is critical that the facility/therapy dog and handler arrive on time, preferably before the victim-witness. The designated courthouse coordinator will greet the handler and dog upon their arrival and notify Chambers. The Coordinator will then escort the facility or therapy dog and handler to a pre-determined waiting area (small conference rooms adjacent to courtroom entrances) where the victim-witness and dog will meet. A sign will be placed on the door indicating that the room is reserved and that there is a "Facility Dog On Premises" with a dog image on it (sample at the end of this document).
Great care id to be taken to avoid contact between the dog and the jury while in transport or while waiting.
The facility/therapy dog is to be placed out of the view of the jury, but in a location that allows the victim-witness easy therapeutic access to the dog without being a distraction. If at any time during the testimony the dog becomes a distraction from the proceedings, for either the jury or the victim-witness, the Court has discretion to address it by any appropriate means, including taking a brief recess while the handler attends to the dog.
In the courtroom, the Trial Judge has discretion to make an announcement regarding the presence of a facility/therapy dog. This is to be discussed in advance with the parties and Judge.
After testimony is complete, the Court will take a recess and allow the jury to leave the courtroom before the Handler, dog and child leave the courtroom. At that point, the Court may address objections or legal arguments with respect to the dog, to the extent necessary.
VIII. NOTIFICATION AND INCIDENT REPORTING:
The Courthouse Dog Program Coordinator, in the Office of the Court Administrator will maintain a database of cases scheduled when a facility/therapy has been requested and those hearings for which such a dog has been approved. It would be optimal to have a flag or code to be entered into Odyssey which would indicate the scheduling of a facility/therapy dog.
If a case is postponed or canceled, it would be up to the requesting party to notify the facility/therapy dog handler. All parties, including dog handlers, should check the court’s docket the day before the hearing online at www.circuitcourt.org/daily-docket or to call the Court Administrator’s Office (410-222-1404) the day before the hearing to confirm the case is still on the docket for the following day.