up arrow Therapy dog helps victims testify


Rosie the service dogThe tennis club we frequent has its own dog — an easy-going Golden Retriever named Massie — one of four dogs the club’s proprietor owns. As anyone who plays tennis already knows, the game can be a frustrating endeavor that makes you wonder why you play. Enter Massie. She’s a calming presence seeking a quick pet as soon as you come off the court regardless of how you played. Getting ready for a big match? Give her a hug before stepping on the court, and you’ll instantly feel better.

It’s no surprise that dogs are frequently enlisted to sooth frayed nerves. They’re masters at reading human behavior. Rosie (pictured right), a seemingly easy-going Golden Retriever, is the first judicially approved courtroom dog in New York. She is frequently employed to relieve the stress of witnesses testifying even gently nudging them toward the witness stand as she did recently in the case of a 15-year old girl who testified against her father for raping and impregnating her. The father was convicted.

Attorneys for this defendent argued that the dog’s presence in the courtroom tainted the jury who handed down the conviction as the NY Times reported: “Defense lawyers argue that the dogs may unfairly sway jurors with their cuteness and the natural empathy they attract, whether a witness is telling the truth or not.”

It’s worth noting that service dogs like Rosie are frequently used to calm witnesses who are also children. The prosecution compares them to toys like teddy bears, which children are allowed to hold during testimony.

Lawyers in the above case are preparing an appeal while acknowledging the risk of appearing anti-dog. The Times noted, “Rosie, they wrote, “is a lovely creature and by all standards a ‘good dog,’ ” and, they added, the defendant “wishes her only the best.” The case could set precedent for how other service dogs are used in courtrooms.

Rosie, named for Rosa Parks, was trained by Dale and Lu Picard, of  Educated Canines Assisting With Disabilities, or ECAD, who noticed her special abilities with emotionally troubled children.

Read more: [NY Times] [Gothamist] [ECAD]