Section 92.55(4), Florida Statutes (2013), enables the court to establish conditions it finds just and appropriate when taking the testimony of a child, including the use of a service or therapy animal that has been evaluated and registered according to national standards, in any proceeding involving a sexual offense.
The Chief Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit has determined that the use of therapy dogs to assist the victim witness may be appropriate in other traumatic proceedings including family court or dependency and Termination of Parental Rights proceedings.
Taking these issues into consideration, the Chief Judge has entered Administrative Order A-2014-3 “Establishing a Certified Therapy Dog Program for the Fifth Judicial Circuit” which provides specific guidelines for the presence and conduct of animal therapy teams in all the Courthouses of the Fifth Judicial Circuit.
If the Office of the State Attorney, the Office of the Public Defender, the Department of Children and Families, the Guardian Ad Litem, or private retained counsel determine that the presence and use of a therapy dog may aid in the testimony of a child/victim/witness at hearing, trial or deposition, that agency or individual may contact an approved therapy dog provider to determine availability of a therapy team and use of one of their therapy dogs. For a current list of Approved Therapy Dog Providers please click here.
Prior to the trial or hearing date, a timely motion requesting approval for the use of an animal therapy team must be filed and a hearing scheduled with notice to all interested parties, including courthouse security staff. The moving party shall be solely responsible for informing all interested parties in any changes in date and/or time of the scheduled trial/hearing including notice to courthouse security.
The therapy dog team is permitted into the courthouse for all scheduled court events as well as case related events scheduled by another agency. All appearances must be scheduled and coordinated with courthouse security. Third parties are required to be present at all times with the therapy dog team while the therapy dog team is in the courthouse. A Guardian Ad Litem volunteer or state attorney victim advocate may serve as a third party.
Please review Administrative Order A-2014-3 for further information and the requirements for utilizing the services of a therapy dog in any case.