Committee on Children
JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING THE USE OF THERAPY DOGS TO COMFORT CHILDREN TESTIFYING IN CERTAIN CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS.
Joint Favorable Substitute
SPONSORS OF BILL:
Introduced by Committee on Children
Rep. Josh Elliott, 88th Dist.
REASONS FOR BILL:
To support the use of therapy dogs to reduce trauma to child victims of maltreatment when testifying in court proceedings.
***Substitute language as contained in LCO # 4770, replaces the language in the raised bill with language requiring information on the provision of therapy animal assistance be listed on the Judicial Branch website and that training be provided within available appropriations.***
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
Joette Katz, Commissioner, Department of Children and Family:
Testified in support of this bill. DCF is often involved in cases which result in a criminal prosecution for these types of offenses. We believe that in certain cases the use of therapy animals may provide a sense of comfort to the child victim in a stressful courtroom setting.
Natasha Pierre,State Of Connecticut Office Of The Victim Advocate:
Testified in support of this bill. While the use of animals in a therapeutic setting is not a new concept, the use of a therapy dog during a criminal proceeding is growing across the nation. Programs have been implemented in thirty-four states, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York.
State Of Connecticut Judicial Branch/External Affairs Division:
Testified in opposition of this bill. Judges may order special procedures or accommodations, including the aid of a therapy dog, for any witness, including children, testifying in any court procedure. If existing statute is changed by the very specific language of this bill and in the legislative session immediately following the Devon D. decision, it may well have the effect of limiting the trial court's ability to permit appropriate accommodations in cases and under circumstances not covered by the statute.
State Of Connecticut Division Of Criminal Justice:
Testified in opposition of this bill. We conclude that the trial court may exercise its discretion to permit a dog to provide comfort and support to a testifying witness. The trial court should balance these factors against the potential prejudice to the defendant and the availability of measures to mitigate any prejudice, such as limiting instructions and procedures to limit the jury's view of the dog.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Lauren Crowley, Animal Assisted Crisis Response Team, Tails of Joy:
Research has shown that dogs help to reduce cortisol, reduce blood pressure, and provide comfort. The children who have experienced trauma need support to help hold the adult that hurt or neglected them accountable
Caroline Gaetano, President, Tails Of Joy:
Providing these therapeutic animals to children while they share their unthinkable stories will serve to comfort them and something I fully support in both my work and volunteer roles.
Annie Hornish, Senior State Director, The Humane Society of The United States:
The role of therapy animals illustrates the power of the human-animal bond. This bill further validates the power of that bond, and moves us in the direction of an increasingly civil and humane society.
Sandra L. Lok, Crisis Response Coordinator, Tails of Joy:
Based on all of my observations working closely with countless children while they experienced the non-judgmental comfort of my dogs, it is without a doubt that I believe that the presence of a well- trained, registered therapy dog in the witness stand with a child who is called upon to testify, would enable a child to recount the details of the abuse or neglect endured without once again suffering the trauma.
As a social worker practicing animal assisted therapy for thirteen years, I can attest to the benefits of therapy dogs for children living with trauma. Therapy dogs in court proceedings will lower children's anxiety and provide support.
This bill would allow children the comfort and stability of a non-judgmental, understanding therapy dog whose presence would provide extraordinary benefits during a very difficult time.
Research has shown that dogs help to reduce stress levels, lower anxiety and provide comfort. Children who have been mistreated or abused need a great deal of support after these traumas.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Reported by: Joyce Turner, Assistant Clerk
Alessandra Burgett, Clerk