Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill Thursday allowing child witnesses to be accompanied by a certified facility dog while testifying in criminal trials.

"I’m thrilled," said 20th District Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland, who introduced the Courthouse Dogs Child Witness Support Act last year.

"It’s one thing to have the program, it’s another thing to have it set by the legislature – a public policy of the State to allow the dogs to do this."

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Rep. David Sanders and in the House by Rep. Rebecca Petty, allows child witnesses who are under the age of 18 at the time of the testimony to be accompanied by a certified facility dog that has at least two years of specific training in providing emotional comfort for children in a high stress environment.

Hiland said each dog is trained to remain quiet during testimony and will never be seen by the jury.

"The child and the dog will be seated in the witness stand before the jury enters the courtroom," he said.

He said he hopes to have a facility dog in Faulkner County by August or September of this year after an interview in June as part of the application process.

A two-week training session for Director of Victim Services Susan Bradshaw, who would serve as the dog's handler, would begin soon after the interview.

(Staff writer Jessica Hauser can be reached by email at jessica.hauser@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-11277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)