FCFCOA launches therapy dog program

First-ever court therapy dog Poppy will provide comfort and emotional support to families in the courts

FCFCOA launches therapy dog program

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) has launched its Court Dog Program, made possible through the support of the Victorian Bar and the Victorian Bar Foundation.

Therapy Dog Poppy, a fully trained court facility dog from Guide Dogs Victoria, will commence full-time work with the Courts from 4 October by assisting litigants and children involved in family law proceedings in the courts' Melbourne registry.

Poppy aims to assist in alleviating stressors faced by families in legal settings. Therapy dogs like Poppy can provide comfort and emotional support to people in the justice system, give a sense of normalcy, assist with facilitating communication, provide a healthy distraction from a trauma response and provide a physical source of calming touch.

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Poppy is expected to support court users in several settings, such as in the courtroom, court foyer and waiting areas, mediation rooms, and during Court Children Services interviews of parents and children.

The program follows a successful pilot featuring Court Dog Lucy from November 2022 to February 2023, with survey respondents expressing positive sentiments about the presence of a court facility dog.

Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia chief justice Will Alstergren said, "The courts are extremely pleased to welcome Poppy as our official Court Therapy Dog. This is the first time that a therapy or facility dog has been used in Australian federal courts, and backed by behavioural science and the experiences of courts all around the world, the benefits to litigants will be significant."

Dr. Russell Harrison, general manager of Dog and Vision Services at Guide Dogs Victoria, highlighted the positive impact therapy dogs can have on the wellbeing of individuals navigating the family court system.

"I have worked with Poppy to ensure she is up to the task, and I know she will have an incredibly positive impact on the wellbeing of people navigating the Family Court system," Dr Harrison said.

The Victorian Bar Foundation's Chairman, John Digby, expressed satisfaction in supporting Poppy as the court's inaugural therapy dog. "The Victorian Bar Foundation is confident that Poppy will be a supportive and calming presence within the court for those Victorian families facing the difficult and stressful experience of a family law dispute."

The Courts are already preparing for the expansion of the program, with Court Dog Zoey set to commence in the Hobart registry later this year.

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