Campbelltown Local Court is going to the dogs – therapy dogs that is.
The courthouse is one of just 10 across Australia selected host therapy dogs, helping victims, defendants and other court users alleviate some stress.
The program is being rolled out after a successful nine-month trial at Manly Local Court.
NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman announced the new program today, and said the dogs would be available at Campbelltown in the foyers, waiting rooms, safe areas and witness rooms, under the care of trained therapy dog handlers.
“This is a great program, it’s been a howling success at Manly,” he said.
“There, 99 per cent of people in the court precinct wanted to interact with the dog and there was a 100 per cent success rate for those people.
“It’s an incredibly stressful time for victims and witnesses, and others who turn up in court. Often they’re traumatised from what they’ve gone through.
“If we can reduce that stress and calm them down, it makes the whole court process less daunting and traumatic for them.
“It’s also good for the justice system, because if they’re calmer it means they’ll recollect the events better and they’re more likely to give accurate evidence.”
Mr Speakman said Campbelltown was selected because, with seven courtrooms, it was a particularly busy location and would provide plenty of “business” for the dogs.
He said the nearby parking was also an important factor and therapy dogs and their handlers were typically unable to travel via public transport.
“If this next stage goes well we’ll be looking for a further roll-out,” he said.
Macarthur Law Society president Brett McGrath hopes that roll out will eventually include Picton Local Court.
“We’re very pleased that the Macarthur region has been selected for one of the first ten,” he said.
“If it’s successful we’d certainly like to see it rolled out elsewhere in the region – the demand is here.”
As a frequent visitor to court, Mr McGrath is well aware of the benefits therapy dogs can provide.
“People go through a lot of anxiety at court, whether they’re victims or defendants, so having therapy dogs takes the pressure off,” he said.
“It’s a neutralising factor in the court system. Hopefully it leads to a better experience for court users.”
Camden MP Chris Patterson said he was thrilled the Macarthur region was reaping the benefits of the therapy dog program.
“I’m certain these happy hounds will attract the same level of support here (as they did in Manly),” he said.
“Just a few minutes patting and cuddling a placid pooch has been shown to help victims and witnesses feel calmer and less stressed.
“Therapy dogs are also a welcome distraction for lawyers, police and court staff who’ll soon have a furry friend to chat to.”
Delta Society, a therapy dog provider hoping to be selected for the court gig, is seeking further volunteers from the Macarthur area. Find out more: deltasociety.com.au.