Proven and Scientifically Sound
The concept of using dogs and other domestic animals for therapeutic purposes is not new. The human-animal bond has existed for thousands of years and is an essential component to the success of programs utilizing animals. There is mention of animals being used therapeutically as early as the 9th century in Belgium.
In 1982, the American Veterinary Medical Association officially recognized the human-animal bond due in part to hundreds of clinical trials that confirmed what people have known for thousands of years: petting an animal significantly reduces stress and anxiety.
Research has shown a dramatic, measurable decrease in heart rate and blood pressure when a person interacts with a therapy animal. It works by reducing the amount of cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone, in the blood stream. Animals have a calming effect on people, help reduce anxiety and can encourage socialization.
Petting a dog or cat for as little as a minute stimulates the production of oxytocin (Odendaal and Meintjes, 2003). Oxytocin in the hormone that enhances trust, cooperation and love between a parent and their child. Petting a therapy animal also releases endorphins making people feel better, diminishing feelings of pain, depression and loneliness.
What this means to a child witness:
- Helps build rapport and trust with a child who is nervous, withdrawn and/or afraid.
- The unconditional and non-judgmental acceptance of the therapy dog enables the child to relax.
- Helps reduce the child’s anxiety and stress, thereby allowing them better recall and focus.
- It helps family members and or guardians relax, which also aids in getting the best possible testimony from the child.
Applied Science in the Courtroom
One of the original courthouse dogs to aid young victims through court proceedings was a German Shepherd. The Children’s Advocacy Center in Jackson, Mississippi used the dogs to comfort children in the courtroom while they testified in abuse cases in the 1990s.
Other major milestones:
2007: The Second Judicial Circuit of Florida began its Courthouse Therapy Dogs Program, one of the first to use therapy dogs in judicial proceedings.
2011: Florida was the first state in the U.S. to pass legislation authorizing use of service or therapy animals into courtrooms hearing sexual offense cases under certain circumstances.
2014: Legislators refine the original law to allow therapy dogs in the courtroom on cases involving victims who were under 16 at the time the crime occurred and for anyone who is intellectually disabled or whom the judge determines is a vulnerable witness.
2015: In its eight year, the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida’ Courthouse Therapy Dogs Program has paired therapy dog teams for more than 100 events in the criminal courts, alone.
>>Learn more Presentation by Stephanie Perkins, Program Coordinator, Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy
>>Story about the dog who inspired Florida’s law. “Encounters with Rikki: from Hurricane rescue to exceptional therapy dog.”