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Dog Helps Girl Testify At Rape Trial

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A golden retriever named Rosie recently spent time in a New York courtroom witness box. It’s an unlikely scene, to be sure, but the dog was there to comfort a 15-year-old girl who was testifying that her father had raped and impregnated her.

The New York Times reports that Rosie is the first judicially approved courtroom dog in New York (similar dogs have been used in Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho and Indiana). She’s actually a “therapy dog” trained to comfort people when they are under stress. Not surprisingly, she was a huge help to this poor teenager, who reportedly kept hugging Rosie – named for the civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks – throughout the trial. “[She] was grateful to Rosie above all,” David A. Crenshaw, a psychologist who works with the teenager, told The New York Times.

It is heart-wrenching to read about such a trial and what this teenager must be going through, which is why I was so touched to learn about Rosie and her ability to provide a bit of comfort during this horrid time. But now Rosie has sparked a legal debate, with defense lawyers arguing that dogs may unfairly sway jurors with their cuteness and the natural empathy they attract, according to The New York Times article. Others, of course, argue that courtroom dogs provide crucial comfort to those testifying, especially children. (One judge ruled that Rosie was similar to a teddy bear allowed to accompany a child witness back in 1994.)

Already there are a slew of comments on the The New York Times site arguing both sides, including some noteworthy ones from a retired litigator who thinks dogs should be banned in the courtroom because of their inevitable influence on jurors (this from a man who personally required a service dog following an injury) and one from a retired state court judge who would have absolutely allowed a “Rosie” in his courtroom (he often allowed child witnesses to hold teddy bears, their parents’ hands, or even sit on a parents’ lap while testifying). It will be very interesting to see what comes of this case and the ultimate role of therapy dogs in the courtroom.

(Photo: iStockphoto)