- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

GURNEE, Ill. (AP) - Illinois could soon become one of the few states with a law governing the use of specially trained dogs in courtrooms to comfort child victims of physical or sexual abuse while they testify.

The Legislature approved the bill and it’s now before the governor, the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1LuL4SV ) Saturday.

One proponent is Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim, whose office in northern Illinois has a yellow Labrador retriever to comfort children while they’re being interviewed by prosecutors. He and the dog, named Mitchell, appeared before a state Senate committee in the spring to support the bill.

One of his investigators, James Magna, says children love to be able to reach down and pet Mitch and know he’s there during sometimes painful interviews at one of their offices in Gurnee.

“As soon as we get in an interview room, I hand over the leash to a child,” Magna told the newspaper. “It’s kind of symbolic, a way to let the child know they’re in control, when there’s many instances where they haven’t been that bring them here to this building.”

After being interviewed, one girl even drew a picture of herself with the dog and wrote, “I love Mitch.”

Courthouses in many states have comfort dogs, but Illinois would be only the third with a law providing specific guidance to judges on their use.

Illinois’ law would lay out guidelines for using the animals to accompany those 18 or younger as well as developmentally disabled adults in some cases involving sexual abuse or exploitation. Dogs would have to remain quiet and out of sight of the jury at a witness’ feet.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office would not say whether the Republican will sign the bill.

A test run went well in May. Nerheim’s son played the role of a victim with Mitchell below him.

“Packed courtroom full of people and he just laid there and didn’t move the whole time,” Nerheim said.

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Information from: Daily Herald, http://www.dailyherald.com

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