In the last year, more courts have allowed dogs to be in the witness box while children testify about abuse, often with the abuser only feet away. Several states have recently enacted legislation to permit children and vulnerable witnesses to be accompanied by such dogs on the stand, and other states are considering such laws. While I believe this is generally a positive use of dogs in the courtroom, I see two troubling trends. The first are state laws and legislative proposals that restrict this work to dogs trained or tested by specific service or therapy dog organizations, despite the fact that many of the dogs judges have allowed in their courtrooms would not meet such criteria but worked very well for the purpose anyway. There is a desire among some groups to establish a guild of facility dog trainers and handlers that would in effect create a monopoly on this work. The second trend I find of grave concern, as someone who once worked in the Department of the Public Advocate in New Jersey, is the obvious lack of preparation demonstrated by defense counsel as to the potential bias involved in a number of the prosecutions that have led to convictions where facility dogs were accepted by trial judges. These developments, and my concerns, are described in an article that I have been updating since 2012 on the website of the Animal Legal & Historical Center of the Michigan State University College of Law.
Cases and Statutes on the Use of Dogs by Witnesses While Testifying in Criminal Proceedings: A Periodically Updated Online Article, by John Ensminger (October 2015)