Trained Labradors will help victims and witnesses get through the stressful court process after the ACT Magistrates Court launched a pilot program to offer comfort to court users by connecting them with a four-legged friend.
A Guide Dogs NSW/ACT therapy dog will visit the ACT Magistrates Court with their handler for a few hours each week starting this Monday (11 February) to reduce anxiety experienced by vulnerable people.
The pilot program, which will initially focus on the Children’s Court and the remote witness suites, will run for six months and may become a permanent service for court users if successful.
Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said similar programs piloted in NSW show that a companion dog can help calm and lower the anxiety of people attending court.
“These happy hounds not only help victims of crimes or witnesses, but they also have a pawsitive effective on staff, police and lawyers,” he said.
“I hope that this program will give people at the court the opportunity to engage with the therapy dogs which will improve their overall experience.”
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is best known for providing Guide Dogs and other mobility aids to people with sight loss but has been operating an expanding Pets As Therapy program for over 30 years.
The dogs have been trained to engage with overwhelmed people and respond to their needs and will be located in foyers, waiting rooms and safe rooms as required.
Labradors have been patrolling courts providing comfort and emotional support in Burwood, Campbelltown, Gosford, Sutherland, Lismore and Goulburn, with additional regional sites to come over the next four months.
ACT Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury said arrangements are in place to ensure that people who are afraid of or allergic to dogs, or who are concerned about contact with them, are not affected.
“We know that it can be a very overwhelming and emotional experience in court for victims of crime, witnesses and young children,” he said. “Having a dog to pat or a nose resting on your knee can offer real comfort.
“These dogs provide companionship and have been trained to provide support in a busy environment like the courts.”
The ACT Government will review the pilot in August.