Specially trained dogs, known as facility dogs, assist vulnerable victims in courtrooms and legal proceedings across the country. Before 2021, however, Texas did not have a law explicitly allowing these highly trained canines to assist victims testifying in Texas state courthouses.
THLN was proud to promote and testify in support of HB 1071 – dubbed the "Texas Courthouse Dogs Law" by the legislator who authored the bill. Research shows that dogs lower cortisol and raise the level of oxytocin in our systems. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone; oxytocin is the "feel good" hormone that gives us a sense of calm and safety. As a result, victims comforted by a facility dog have higher memory recall rates and are less likely to be re-traumatized when describing how they were abused. This, in turn, results in stronger indictments and higher conviction rates. The Texas Courthouse Dogs Law helps to bring abusers to justice.
What distinguishes a qualified facility dog from a qualified therapy dog? Both types are included in the law, so it's helpful to understand what distinguishes the two. A qualified facility dog undergoes at least one year of training by a certified training organization. The dog can work full-time in specialized environments like courts and children's shelters. Most qualified facility dogs live with their handler, and the pair are considered "co-workers." By contrast, a qualified therapy dog is typically a pet dog that has completed a training program allowing the dog and owner to participate in animal-assisted interventions. While therapy dogs do indeed provide comfort to people in a variety of settings, they are not employees in the same sense as facility dogs. It is recommended that therapy dogs work two hours or less per day. The law went into effect on September 1, 2021. For more information on where to find a qualified facility dog in Texas, please email us at [email protected]
To download the THLN Fact Sheet for the Dogs in Texas Courthouses Law, go here.