New pilot program designed to assist, comfort children during witness testimony

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ANNAPOLIS, MD – A new pilot program that brings dogs into the courthouse to help children during court proceedings has launched in two circuit courts in Maryland.

The Courthouse Dog and Child Witness Pilot Program is now available within Anne Arundel and Harford County circuit courts. This pilot program allows facility and therapy dogs to accompany child witnesses who are testifying or appearing in court in criminal or civil cases.

State Sen. Bryan Simonaire, District 31, spearheaded the idea behind the pilot program. Anne Arundel County Circuit Court partnered with the Caring Canines Pet Therapy team to assist with the implementation.

Caring Canines is a pet therapy program created by Dogwood Acres Pet Retreat in Davidsonville. It provides certified pet therapy teams in an effort to create a peaceful presence to those in need in our community.

"The Dogwood Acres and Caring Canines teams are thrilled to see this program up and running,” said Erin Bogan, marketing director for Dogwood Acres Pet Retreat. “It has been a long-time dream for us to see our amazing dogs helping those in the court system who may need extra support to make their experience less traumatic."

According to the court administrator for Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, witnesses eligible for the program will be identified by the state attorney's office, a best interest attorney or a volunteer with the Court Appointed Special Advocate, also known as CASA. The request must be made in writing to the court and will go before the court’s administrative judge for approval.

Since the program’s inception, both Anne Arundel and Harford County circuit courts have not received any written requests; however, both courts expect to see requests in the coming months.

“We’re looking forward to receiving requests because we’ve seen how helpful dogs can be in easing the stress of children who come to court,” said Judge Angela Eaves, Administrative Judge for Harford County Circuit Court.

Teams of trained facility dogs and their handlers will join Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, Judge Laura Kiessling, Administrative Judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit (Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties), and State Court Administrator Pamela Harris for a ceremony at the Anne Arundel Circuit Court in Annapolis this afternoon. Following remarks, the facility dogs and their handlers will take a short tour of the courthouse.

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