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Use Of Golden Retriever In Rape Case Courts Controversy In New York

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Rosie The Comfort Dog (credit: CBS 2)

Rosie The Comfort Dog (credit: CBS 2)

Lou Young headshot Lou Young
A native New Yorker, Lou Young joined CBS 2 in June 1994. He has...
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DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Man’s best friend is currently under a court challenge. Defense lawyers in an emotional rape case in New York said the state unfairly used a golden retriever to gain the jury’s sympathy.

Rosie, the professional comfort therapy dog, hardly seems controversial. The 11-year-old animal, trained to help traumatized children through the rough patches of life, knows her job and does it well.

The dog made a historic appearance as the first therapy dog in New York state allowed to comfort a testifying witness in a criminal court case. It happened in June at the Dutchess County courthouse as a 15-year-old girl testified against her own father for sexual abuse.

The animal accompanied the young rape victim to the stand and by all accounts did a wonderful job by sitting at the teen’s feet and gently nuzzling her when she became nervous and helping her find the courage to testify.

The defense said that Rosie’s presence in the courtroom prejudiced the jury against their client, the father, who was convicted and is now serving jail time.

“She’s a beautiful dog, but the fact is that…most important thing here is making sure that the defendant’s right to a fair trial is protected,” defense lawyer Steven Levine told CBS 2′s Lou Young.

The courthouse dog program has been tried in other states, but it is new in New York. Critics said the dog makes a witness automatically look sympathetic and could help some pull a fast one.

“I believe the dog could potentially help somebody lie,” Levine said.

However, Majorie Smith, of the Dutchess County District Attorney’s office, described the appeal filed in the rape case as “smoke and mirrors.” The appeal is challenging the use of the dog, but the district attorney’s office insists the dogs are a help to young and traumatized victims.

“This dog is no different than the teddy bear that was allowed out in the previous New York case. Where they allowed a little girl to come in and hold a teddy bear in her lap when she testified,” Smith said.

The Dutchess District Attorney is so sure of the value of the dog, they are continuing to use Rosie in other cases even as the appeal is held. A check with other district attorney’s offices around the state indicate they will probably wait for a ruling before following suit.

The courthouse dog program started several years ago in Washington state and has since spread to Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho and Indiana.

How do you feel about the use of so-called comfort dogs in the courtroom?  Share your thoughts in the comments section…

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