A change in Colorado law could mean a new gig for Boulder County courthouse dog, Amigo. Or possibly, a new furry coworker.
The Boulder District Attorney’s Office is considering expanding Amigo’s training or adding another courthouse dog after the Legislature this year passed a bill that allows dogs to accompany witnesses to the stand during trial.
House Bill 1220, called Pella’s Law in honor of Colorado’s first facility dog, allows witnesses to have a trained courthouse dog with them during traumatic testimony and was recently signed into law by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
“I believe that testifying is a very, very hard thing,” said Nancy Lewis, executive director for the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance. “Making anybody who is testifying less nervous is a plus to our judicial system.”
While there have been instances of dogs accompanying child witnesses, the law expands the use of dogs to any witness a judge rules would be helped through testimony by the presence of a dog, so long as the dog does not disrupt proceedings and would not bias a jury.
“I think the object of having a trial is to have the truth,” Lewis said. “Testifying is a nerve-wracking thing. If this is something that offers a little bit of relaxation, the criminal justice system is better off.”
Since Pella’s introduction in 2012, other jurisdictions have added their own courthouse dogs, including Amigo with the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office in 2013.
Amigo currently accompanies witnesses during interviews or during breaks in testimony, but in light of the new law, the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office said it will consider sending Amigo for the necessary training to actually accompany witnesses to the stand.
The other option would be getting a second courthouse dog that would go through the necessary training beforehand. The Boulder County District Attorney’s Office had been considering a second courthouse dog as far back as DA Michael Dougherty’s predecessor, Stan Garnett’s, time in office.
“We are evaluating whether to use Amigo or another dog for this purpose,” Dougherty said. “We recently received grant funding for another support dog, so we look forward to expanding our support of child victims who are suffering from emotional distress or trauma.”
Employing facility dogs has been a growing trend in Boulder County and at other courthouses across Colorado, and Lewis thinks that number will grow now that the new law should make it easier for courts to use them during trial.
“I think we are going to see many, many jurisdictions (get a dog),” Lewis said. “Dogs are just being used a lot to help people deal with the anxiety of testifying, or the anxiety of what is happening to them in the criminal justice system.”