Dogs in courts for child witnesses: Maryland pilot program could become law

Maryland lawmakers are considering a number of bills that deal with animal welfare and the comfort that animals offer people.

One bill would ban the sale of cosmetics that are tested on animals. Emily Hovermale, the Maryland State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, said that many companies have developed alternative testing to ensure the safety of their products, and that consumers now have more choices when looking for “cruelty-free” products.

“The traditional testing is horribly inhumane,” Hovermale said. “And there are so many other alternatives” for both manufacturers and consumers.

“There are apps that you can use to scan and see if your products have been tested on animals — it’s very easy to do in 2020,” she said.

While lobbying lawmakers in Annapolis, she pointed out that all the makeup she was wearing — lipstick, foundation and mascara — was not tested on animals.

In 2018, Virginia passed legislation that requires manufacturers to find alternatives to animal testing whenever possible. The law does not apply to testing for medical research. Animal testing would still be allowed to comply with state or federal regulations for some products.

Another bill, sponsored by Maryland Sen. Bryan Simonaire, D-Anne Arundel, would expand a program that has allowed specially-trained therapy dogs to accompany children to court in abuse and criminal cases. It has already been piloted in some courtrooms, and the new legislation would simply expand it statewide.

Crimson Barocca, a forensic interviewer with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, brought Manny, an experienced therapy dog, to Annapolis to testify on the bill before a Senate committee.

Barocca described a recent case in which a young girl arrived for an interview. “She wouldn’t look at anyone; she was very nervous about the process that she was going to have to endure that morning.”

Barocca asked the girl if she liked dogs, and the girl said yes, she did.

That’s when Barocca introduced her to Manny. “I brought Manny out to meet this young lady, and she lit up!” Barocca said. “Manny sat on the couch next to her as she felt comfortable enough — while petting him — to talk about her abuse experience.”

Another bill would waive adoption fees for veterans who apply to adopt pets from area shelters.

The Maryland General Assembly session started on Wednesday.

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