If a proposed amendment currently wending its way through Connecticut’s legislative process doesn’t receive sweeping approval, it will simply reinforce what a lot of us already think about most politicians: that they are heartless (expletives deleted) without an ounce of compassion.
The act in question would “allow the use of therapy animals to provide comfort to children who are testifying in a criminal prosecution” of cases in which they have been assaulted, sexually assaulted or abused. As presented it would apply only to children age 12 and younger.
If the change is actually made, “a volunteer team consisting of a therapy animal and a registered handler” as defined by law will be among the select group of people permitted to remain in the room while the child is testifying. The new rule, which would take effect this October, would also allow the therapy animal and handler to sit near the child as long as they didn’t block the view of the defendant or judge.
To me this is a “no-brainer.” A courtroom can be a big, scary, intimidating place — even for an adult. The possibility of testifying about a traumatic experience can be daunting for adults … just imagine how frightening it is for kids. Honestly. How would you feel if you were just a little kid who had been raped or molested or beaten and then you had to face that person in court?
Now think about how you’d feel if you were a little kid in that situation and you had a therapy animal (most likely a dog) that you really liked and felt safe with close by.
It’s a proven fact that interacting with animals helps people relax. It’s also a proven fact that therapy animals can help children cope with and overcome tremendous obstacles.
I should know. It’s something I’ve witnessed personally while volunteering at therapeutic horseback riding programs in Connecticut and Virginia. Kids who were grumpy when they arrived were happier by the time they left. Kids who had a hard time expressing themselves at home or in school mastered the verbal signals needed to control their ponies.
Of course that’s not to say that therapy horses belong in Connecticut courtrooms. But there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever why dogs and other small therapy animals shouldn’t be allowed to do what they are so adept at — providing love and reassurance when it’s needed most.