The dog who took the witness stand
A golden retriever named Rose has gone where no dog in New York has gone before: The courthouse witness stand. Last week, the 11-year-old service pooch took to the stand to comfort a sexual abuse victim during her testimony. Rose is just one of a number of dogs being used for such purposes around the country. Here, a brief guide:
What exactly did Rose do in court?
She comforted a 15-year-old victim of sexual abuse on the witness stand as the girl was asked to point out the man who had abused her for four years. To keep her composure, the girl petted the dog's head and even rubbed Rose's belly with her foot. "A lot of times when children have been exposed to trauma or sexual abuse, they have a hard time expressing themselves," especially when they're confronting their abuser in a courtroom filled with strangers, says Lori Stella, the social worker who worked with the victim and advocated to have Rose in court. From the day the young girl met Rose, "I could physically see her anxiety diminishing."
How did Rose prepare for her day in court?
Rose, who came from a non-profit organization called Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) that teaches troubled teens how to train service dogs, already had basic training, but spent six weeks hanging out with the victim, and with the judge and prosecutor inside the courthouse. Her owner and trainer Dale Picard knew Rose was perfect for the job. From an early age, the dog had a "special" knack, he says. "She could calm kids down and kids with bad issues would gravitate towards her."
Did anyone mind having Rose in court?
Yes, the defense attorney, who won't comment on the matter, objected to her presence. The senior district attorney on the case, Kristine Hawlk, was all for it. "I'm a big proponent that if there's something we can do to help a victim that's legal, we have an obligation to do it," she says. "Rosie was totally unobtrusive. She did exactly what she was supposed to do." Picard had been trying to get a dog in a New York courtroom for years, but had previously been told that it was too distracting to the jury.
Is this being done anywhere else?
Yes. Rose is the first dog to have her day in court in New York, but she's hardly the first in the county. Last fall in New Mexico, a 2-year-old golden retriever named Cooper become the first service dog in the country to be used by a Court Appointed Special Advocate program. In Orange City, Fla., New Horizons Service Dogs offers "Court Dogs" for emotional support
What's next for Rose?
She's heading back to court, assisting on another trial next month.