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Therapy Dog Poppy sworn into Australian Federal Court

Therapy Dog Poppy’s ‘woof of honour’ as she is sworn into the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (the Courts) have today launched the Court Dog Program.

Thanks to the support and generosity 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 the 4th of October by assisting litigants and children who are involved in family law proceedings in the Courts’ Melbourne registry.

Families engaged in court proceedings often experience a variety of stressors that can be exacerbated in the legal setting. 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 a physical source of calming touch.

Poppy will be able to provide support to 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 Courts conducted a pilot program between November 2022 and February 2023 which involved Court Dog Lucy, who was generously loaned to the Courts by the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions. Of those who were surveyed about the pilot, 100% of respondents agreed that:

✔️ Having a court facility dog in the building was positive.

✔️ They/their client felt supported by the presence of a court facility dog.

If they/their client attended court again, they would like the ability to request the support of a court facility dog.

The Hon Will Alstergren AO, Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia explains the positive impact Poppy will have on people who engage with the court system.

“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.

A professionally trained facility dog can provide support to people experiencing stress and offer a positive and calming distraction to an overwhelming situation. Poppy will help the court experience be more trauma-sensitive and enable people to find their voice, furthering the administration of justice.

Our Hobart registry is preparing for Court Dog Zoey to commence later in the year, and I am confident that these programs will be extended nationally in the near future.

We are extremely thankful to Guide Dogs Victoria and the Victorian Bar Foundation for their incredible support for this initiative, I am very pleased to honorarily ‘swear in’ Poppy to the Courts today.

Dr Russell Harrison, General Manager Dog and Vision Services at Guide Dogs Victoria sheds light on the pivotal role Therapy Dogs can play in our society.

“Not every Guide Dog puppy is suited to becoming a fully qualified Guide Dog. Some dogs like Poppy have the perfect nature and training to offer support as a Therapy Dog, placed in unique situations to provide companionship and offer emotional support to those in need. I have worked with Poppy to ensure she up to the task, and I know she will have an incredibly positive impact on the wellbeing of people navigating the Family Court system.”

The Victorian Bar Foundation’s Chairman, the Hon. John Digby KC, comments that the Victorian Bar Foundation is both proud and delighted to support Poppy, the Family 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. We believe Poppy is a most worthwhile initiative of Chief Justice Alstergren AO KC and the Federal Circuit and Family Court.”

About the Victorian Bar Foundation

The Victorian Bar Foundation is the Victorian Bar’s not for profit charitable organisation. The Victorian Bar Foundation works to promote a number of causes in the community, including supporting the provision of legal education, providing information about the legal system, the role of barristers in the legal system and the role of law in society.

About Guide Dogs Australia

Guide Dogs Australia is a brand that represents Australia’s state and territory-based Guide Dogs organisations. Guide Dogs delivers a range of essential services to children, teenagers, adults, and older Australians who are blind or have low vision, helping them to lead a life of their choosing and reach their individual goals. Alongside Guide Dogs Victoria’s mission to assist people with low vision or blindness gain the freedom and independence to move safely and confidently around their communities, they also provide Therapy Dogs.

About Therapy Dogs

While best known for matching Guide Dogs to people with low vision or blindness, the organisation also works to place Therapy Dogs with people who experience mental or physical health conditions, or those suffering from isolation caused by age or illness. Therapy Dogs can be placed with individuals or in facilities such as schools, nursing homes, psychologists, counsellors, rehabilitation clinics and even courtrooms to provide companionship and emotional support. As such, we specially select dogs for these programs that are skilled at providing a sense of calm and comfort.

Facility Dogs are special types of Therapy Dogs that are trained to work in a particular place with a Handler. Facility Dogs can support people by:
  • providing a point of conversation and helping people to engage;
  •  offering support to people who may feel isolated or uncomfortable in the situation or facility;
  • creating a distraction from any negative feelings and reducing stress or anxiety.
It’s important to know that Therapy Dogs are not considered ‘Assistance Dogs’, which means they’re not trained to provide specific health supports. However, thanks to their unique skills—and the fact they’ve usually been through a large part of the formal Guide Dog training program—Therapy Dogs are fully qualified to offer comfort, loyalty, friendship, and love to people with all kinds of conditions and abilities.

For more information, or to view dog placement criteria and apply for a Therapy Dog, visit the Guide Dogs Victoria’s website

About the Federal Circuit and the Family Court of Australia

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 1) and (Division 2) deal with nearly all of Australia’s family law cases (excluding those in WA). Cases often involve disputes relating to children and property/finances. Many of the cases before the Courts are complex and raise issues of family violence or other risks, allegations of child abuse or serious physical harm. In addition to family law, the FCFCOA (Division 2) has jurisdiction in other federal law matters such as administrative law, bankruptcy, industrial relations, migration and consumer law.

The Courts prioritise the assessment and management of risk and harm to children and vulnerable parties who are involved in the family law system. Parties are also given ongoing opportunities for dispute resolution where it is safe to do so. For cases that proceed to litigation, the Courts provide a modern, transparent and efficient system of justice which is aimed at directing parties through the process as safely, quickly and efficiently as possible without undue delay.

MEDIA RELEASE, 4th October 2023

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