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Legal Debate Erupts Over Courtroom Dogs' Comforting Role for Young Victims

A recent New York court case in which a 15-year-old girl accused her father of raping and impregnating her has opened a wider debate on the role of service dogs in courtrooms.  Rosie, a golden retriever therapy dog trained to comfort people under stress, sat at the girl's feet as she testified, providing her with warmth and nuzzles during the most upsetting moments of the testimony.

As The New York Times reports, though, the girls' father is appealing his conviction on the grounds that Rosie was an undue influence.  The newspaper reports:

The new role for dogs as testimony enablers can, however, raise thorny legal questions. Defense lawyers argue that the dogs may unfairly sway jurors with their cuteness and the natural empathy they attract, whether a witness is telling the truth or not, and some prosecutors insist that the courtroom dogs can be a crucial comfort to those enduring the ordeal of testifying, especially children.

Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana and some other states have also allowed comfort dogs to accompany children to the witness stand.  The ruling in this appeal will likely impact the use of courtroom dogs in the future.

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