AUSTIN (KXAN) — Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas has introduced the Dogs as Witness Guardians (DAWG) Act to clarify federal judges’ authority to allow certified facility dogs in courtrooms during legal proceedings.
Cornyn’s office says the legislation is based on the successful efforts of many states and the scientific evidence showing the overwhelming physical and mental calming effects of trained dogs such as Mickler.
KXAN has reported on Mickler the trained therapy dog at the Center for Child Protection in Austin. Mickler is used in Travis County courtrooms to help ease the anxiety and stress in children testifying in court.
In many cases, the children are confronting their accused abuser. Mickler sits in the witness stand out of the view of the jury as to not bias jurors.
Senator Cornyn says some federal judges are not sure if it’s allowed and needs clarification. He says the DAWG Act will provide that guidance and give federal judges the clearance to make a decision without fear of a higher court reversing it on appeal.
“This makes it clear to the judiciary that this is discretionary to the federal judge and points to successes here in Austin where these dogs are properly trained not intrusive. this isn’t a play for sympathy to the jury but this is here to help them tell their story and make sure justice is done,” says Cornyn.
Cornyn’s office says the Senator has toured Texas visiting therapy dogs, including Austin.
In a statement to KXAN, his team explains:
Currently, eight states have legislation allowing for the use of certified facility dogs to assist witnesses giving testimony, and eight other states’ courts have determined that the use of certified facility dogs may be appropriate in certain instances. The Dogs as Witness Guardians (DAWG) Act allows for any party in a federal criminal proceeding to request an order authorizing an available certified courthouse dog to accompany a witness while testifying in federal court.
In order to be certified facility dogs, they must meet the following requirements:
- The dog must have graduated from an assistance dog organization that is a member of an internationally recognized assistance dog association whose primary purpose is based on excellence in the areas of dog acquisition, training, and placement.
- The dog must be accompanied by a trainer who is trained to manage the dog and has knowledge about the legal and criminal justice processes.
Judges may grant the request and enter an order. If the dog is certified, it will aid the witness in providing testimony, and the dog is insured for liability protection.
The DAWG Act is supported by the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, the National District Attorneys Association, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.