Lawyers argue over therapy dogs in courtrooms
Aug 9, 2011
A golden retriever named Rosie is in the middle of the legal debate over whether therapy dogs should be allowed in courtrooms in New York and other states to soothe stressed people on trial, The New York Times reports.
The debate began after Rosie, a therapy dog that specializes in comforting people under stress, nuzzled against a 15-year-old girl as she testified that her father had raped and impregnated her. The girl won the case, and her father received 25 years to life in prison for his crime. The defense lawyers plan to appeal, arguing that the therapy dog swayed jurors unfairly with its cuteness.
The trial has sparked a national debate over whether therapy dogs should be allowed in courts in general. Prosecutor Ellen O'Neill-Stephens of Seattle told the news source that they can "mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal." This is especially true for child witnesses or those in sexual assault cases, where witnesses can feel vulnerable or stressed.
Before Rosie, there was no state precedent about whether therapy dogs were allowed to accompany a victim to the stand. However, Judge Stephen L. Greller ruled it acceptable, likening it to a teddy bear, which child witnesses are allowed to bring since an appeals court approved it in 1994, according to New York Magazine.