Sunday, October 7, 2012

Facility Dog Allowed to Sit at Adult Victim’s Feet as He Testifies

A case from the State of Washington concluded that allowing a trained “facility dog” to sit beside an adult victim as he testified did not violate the defendant’s right to a fair trial.  I have discussed the decision of the Washington appellate court in an article posted on the website of the Animal Legal and Historical Center of the Michigan State University College of Law.  A picture of the dog used in the case, Ellie, was provided by Ellen O’Neill-Stephens of Courthouse Dogs.

Since an appellate court has accepted that an adult functioning at the level of a child could testify with the support of a dog trained to work with vulnerable witnesses, the next question must be what boundaries can or should be set on the use of dogs in courtrooms.  Should a psychiatric service dog be allowed to accompany a witness with PTSD?  What about an untrained emotional support animal for a person with an anxiety disorder who cannot speak in public without the dog?  Judges have a great deal of latitude in what to permit, yet in one case I cite a judge's misbehaving dog was visible to a jury.  

I had described “testimony dogs” in a section of Service and Therapy Dogs in American Society (p. 100), but the term “facility dog” appears to be more common in the growing literature and case law regarding this type of function.  If the trend continues, I will use this term in subsequent editions of my book. Washington v. Dye, 283 P.3d 1130 (Wash.App. Div. 1, 2012).

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