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Santa Monica Lawmaker's Bill to Allow Therapy Dogs in Court Signed into Law


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By Lookout Staff

September 28, 2017 -- A bill by Santa Monica Assemblymember Richard Bloom to allow “therapy” dogs in court during witness testimony was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday.

AB 411 allows the especially trained dogs into court rooms to lend comfort and emotional support to “vulnerable victims and witnesses, including certain child witnesses,” Bloom said.

“Research has shown us that these therapy and facility dogs provide a compassionate way to help comfort victims during their testimony,” said Bloom, a former Santa Monica mayor.

“Because of the positive effects that have been seen in courtrooms across the country, more participants in law enforcement and the judicial system are recognizing its importance and positive impact.”

Although courtrooms across California include the use of therapy and facility dogs, there are no statutory rules governing this practice, Bloom's office said.

"Due to the lack of statutory guidance over the use of therapy and facility dogs, it is up to the presiding judge of each court to determine whether or not a dog will be permitted in the court house," his staff said.

"As a result, in the absence of a state law, child witnesses and victims throughout the state have been denied their right to use therapy and facility dogs when providing testimony."

Therapy dogs receive special training, and provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas and to people with special needs, according to the American Kennel Club.

They differ from “service dogs,” which are individually trained to perform tasks that mitigate their handlers’ disabilities.

"Therapy and facility dogs provide both a physical benefit and emotional benefit to vulnerable victims, resulting in more accurate testimony in the judicial system," Bloom's staff said.

They also specialize in assisting individuals with physical, psychological, or emotional trauma caused by criminal conduct, experts said.

“Victims’ rights attorneys, advocates and activists have fought to ensure that no matter where a child resides in California, they will have access to the use of therapy and facility dogs during testimony," Bloom said.

On Tuesday, he said, "the State of California enshrined that right in statue.”


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