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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Dogs On The Witness Stand

We couldn't pass up this story in today's New York Times  about a Golden Retriever named Rosie (after Rosa Parks), who had her first taste of litigation when she helped a teenage girl testify on the witness stand.
Rosie is the first judicially approved courtroom dog in New York and she's part of a growing trend in "dogs as testimony enablers" whereby specially trained dogs accompany the witness to the stand and provide comfort and support throughout the testimony, and when they sense a particularly stressful moment. These dogs are provided mostly for children and mentally handicapped adults-the judge who allowed Rosie to accompany the girl in this case, likened her to a "teddy bear" that was allowed to join a previous child witness.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Shimoda for the New York Times

In this particular trial, the defendant (the teenage girl's father) was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 25 years in jail. His lawyers are appealing, arguing that the dog helped the defendant appear more honest and evoked the jury's natural empathy-basically by appearing concerned, cute and sweet (as most dogs do).
In fact, the defendant's lawyers knew they were risking appearing "anti dog" and made sure to say in their court filings that "Rosie is a lovely creature and by all standards a 'good dog'."

By the way,  Rosie's owners, who own and operate an organization called "Educated Canines Assisting With Disabilities", say that courtroom work is a bit of a career change for the 11 year old Rosie, who spent years working with emotionally troubled children at a residential facility. Wow. We never ceased to be amazed by the canine-human connection. Enjoy the full article here: www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/nyregion/dog-helps-rape-victim-15-testify.html?_r=1&hpw

We'd love to hear what you think: Should specially trained dogs like Rosie be allowed to accompany young and/or emotionally disabled defendants to the witness stand, or could the presence of a dog unfairly skew the outcome, prejudicing the other parties rights to a fair trial? Let us know!


Of Pit Bulls and Patience said...

What a complicated issue! On one side, I wonder how these testimonies would differ without a dog present. Would the outcome of the case change because the witness is intimidated or afraid?

But at the same time, I think I'd be a compromised juror if those eyes were looking at me from the witness stand!

Peggy Frezon said...

I think that it should be allowed, because I'm all for dogs helping people in any way they can. Do I think people will be swayed by the adorable doggy? Probably. And another thing, people will soon learn to work the system and everyone in court will show up with a cute dog.

Bocci said...

Ha! We also think dogs should be allowed-and the jurors will just have to pay attention to the "facts" instead of those big brown eyes:-)

Leland Dirks said...

Hmmm... this could be a whole new career opportunity for Angelo!

Lynda and Duncan said...

Duncan and I are all for it! Although, D will never be able to qualify for the job as he can't sit still that long :)

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