AUGUSTA — Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, introduced legislation to permit the use of courthouse dogs at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
“This legislation is intended to offer some comfort and solace to individuals, especially children, dealing with the criminal justice system in the aftermath of a traumatic event,” said President Jackson. “Thank you to DA Collins for bringing this idea forward and looking for innovative ways to make our criminal justice system more accessible.”
LD 888, “An Act to Allow Use of Courthouse Facility Dogs by Criminal Justice Agencies for Criminal Justice Purposes” would allow trained a courthouse dog to access the courts, law enforcement agencies, the Department of the Attorney General, district attorney’s offices, and child advocacy centers. Access would only be granted during legal proceedings if authorized by the presiding judicial officer.
“Courthouse Facility Dogs are professionally trained dogs working throughout the Country in prosecutors’ offices, child advocacy centers, and family courts. They primarily provide a calming influence for children and other vulnerable witnesses during stressful legal proceedings,” said Aroostook County District Attorney Todd Collins in written testimony.
This legislation was inspired by Holiday, the yellow Labrador who lives and trains with DA Collins in Presque Isle. Holiday must receive 208 hours of training before she can be officially licensed as a courthouse dog and is participating in a training program in Houlton. DA Collins is hoping that Aroostook County will become the first district in Maine to use courthouse dogs to comfort children and victims of violent crimes.
Courthouse facility dogs are professionally trained and work in criminal justice agencies throughout the United States. According to the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, as of August 19, 2022, there were 295 dogs working in 41 states. These dogs act as neutral companions during investigations and prosecutions of crimes. The dogs are trained not to disrupt legal proceedings and remain calm throughout the judicial process.
LD 888 is supported by Safe Voices, American Kennel Club and the Maine Prosecutors’ Association. The bill faces additional work sessions before the Judiciary Committee.