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In Courtrooms, Therapy Dogs Help Crime Victims and Witnesses Testify

Allegory of Justice
A wrenching scene played out in a Brooklyn courtroom courtroom on Tuesday, June 9, as a 30-year-old woman described her and her five-year-old daughter’s horrific experience of being held captive for five months in 2012, bound by duct tape and repeatedly assaulted.

As the woman gave her testimony, recalling some of the most traumatic experiences a human can endure, she leaned over to hug an unusual courtroom guest: Paz, an expressive, outgoing and curly-haired Australian Labradoodle.

Paz, the unnamed woman’s therapy dog, became the first dog to be permitted to accompany an adult in a New York City courtroom. While therapy dogs have been accompanying children into city courtrooms for years to help calm their nerves on the witness stand, Justice John G. Ingram granted the prosecution permission to allow Paz into the courtroom with his owner, the New York Times reported.

The case’s prosecution initially suggested allowing Paz into the courtroom when his owner had difficulty viewing evidence like crime scene photos.

“Every time that she would vomit and leave the witness stand, she would go out and see the therapy dog,” said an individual from the district attorney’s office who asked not to be identified. “That was about four or five times.”

With Paz at her side, however, the woman was able to calmly recall her traumatic past and give enough testimony to allow the court to convict her attacker. During the sentencing hearing, she often ran her hands over her dog’s head and smiled, according to the New York Times.

After Justice Ingram sentenced the woman’s attacker, Yohannes Anglin, 36, to 60 years to life in prison, the justice told her he hoped good health, counseling and “her comfort dog” would help her “put this behind her” and “get on with her life.”

Therapy dogs like Paz are becoming a more common sight in courtrooms nationwide, along with the nation’s 21,200 court reporters and countless other judges, jurors, attorneys and witnesses. For witnesses — especially crime victims who have trouble recalling their experiences at the witness stand, a therapy dog can be an indispensable source of comfort and assurance.

Throughout Craig, Mayes and Rogers Counties in Oklahoma, for example, specially-trained dogs accompany crime victims at meetings and as they testify. Each therapy dog wears a specially-designed superhero cape and badge, making them popular among child witnesses.

“So far the reaction has been great, the kids have loved the dogs, there’s been a very positive reaction,” Holly Webb, of the Barnes Children’s Advocacy Center, told Tulsa, OK’s KOTV.