Therapy dogs are working hard at the ACT Magistrates Court, in a new pilot program that aims to keep court users calm and lower anxiety.
The program sees therapy dogs from the Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Pets As Therapy (PAT) program attend the ACT Magistrates Court with a handler for a few hours each week. The pilot is initially focused on the Children’s Court and the remote witness suites, where the cute and comforting canines engage with parties, witnesses and other people involved in court proceedings.
ACT Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker said the program gives court users the opportunity to interact with the dogs, which can help reduce the anxiety that often accompanies court proceedings.
“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,” she said.
ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay and ACT Minister for Justice Shane Rattenbury both commended the ACT Magistrates Court on the program.
“From closely monitoring similar programs piloted across the border, we know that a companion dog can help calm and lower the anxiety of people attending court,” Minister Ramsay 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.”
Mr Ramsay said the dogs not only help victims of crime, but also have a “pawsitive” effect on staff, police and lawyers.
Minister Rattenbury said the dogs have been trained to provide support in a busy environment such as the courts, and are there to engage with people and respond to their needs.
“We know that it can be a very overwhelming and emotional experience in court for victims of crime, witnesses and young children. Having a dog to pat or a nose resting on your knee can offer a real comfort,” he said.
The pilot began on Monday 11 February, and if deemed successful, may become a permanent service for court users.