Order in the court! In a recent Poughkeepsie, New York, courtroom, one dog has created quite the uproar. Courtroom therapy dogs being banned? Could it be true?
Rosie is a Golden Retriever who helped comfort a 15-year-old girl during a recent case. The girl claimed her father raped her, resulting in pregnancy. When the teenager broke down and was visibly upset, Rosie was there to comfort and nuzzle her. With a guilty verdict at the end of the trial, the teenager thanked Rosie for helping her through the trauma of testifying.
The defense team is crying foul, stating courtroom therapy dogs may unfairly sway jurors due to their adorable and empathetic nature — whether or not the witness is being truthful — and that jurors are more likely to render a guilty verdict. Public defenders arguing this case are hopeful it will be taken to New York’s Supreme Court for review.
In the June issue of FIDO Friendly magazine, I interviewed Dan Cojanu, who works with Amos, a courtroom support dog of the Canine Advocacy Program. Amos assists children who were sexually assaulted in both courtroom and group settings. Amos is allowed in the witness box and works with children prior to testifying and in the decompression after the harrowing process.
I asked Cojanu what difference he saw in the kids when working with Amos and he shared, “Our program helps the child, the court, and everyone involved in the criminal justice system. A dog brings a sense of security that cannot be duplicated even by professionals in the field.”
Kids in these situations must share the most intimate details of their victimization in front of a group of total strangers. Waiting to testify only intensifies the fears, which is where Amos steps up. “Once Amos is introduced, you see an immediate drop in the anxiety. They do tricks with Amos, petting, taking him for a walk and many times draw pictures of him. Again, this alleviates much of the anxiety associated with waiting to testify. They are also assured Amos will be waiting when they are done.”Advocates for courtroom support dogs relate the dog to a teddy bear, providing a source of comfort.
My take on this is simple: The defense wants equality, let the courtroom therapy dog sit by their client’s side when on the stand. The dog serves as source of assistance. At the present time, as has been through the ages, dogs are classified as property in the eyes of the law. Let the “property” serve a place in the courtroom. Allow the “property” to fill a void, shield the horror, and lift the veil on the truth. Oh, and if the property sees fit to lift something else on the alleged perpetrator, so be it.
What if that dog was a pit bull? Would the defense be so up in arms about it? (I’ m a fan of all breeds, by the way) Isn’t this an injustice to dub the dog cute and swaying what jurors might think? A new form of racial profiling, perhaps species specific? How many defense attorneys counsel their clients to put their hair in a ponytail, avoid looking slovenly, be sure to shave, etc. All of these “tricks” and ploys on the empathetic heartstrings of the jurors must come to a halt if justice is to be served.
Banning courtroom therapy dogs from helping kids in need? Give me a break.
What do you think?