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Courts upholding the use of therapy dogs during traumatic testimony

Posted in Sexual Abuse on Monday, November 2, 2015.

We have previously written about the use of therapy dogs in court. For victims of sexual abuse – especially child victims – a trained canine companion can provide much-needed comfort and a sense of stability during what is often a traumatic experience.

Therapy dogs are coming into wider use in courtrooms here in Pennsylvania and across the country. They do have critics; usually defendants and defense attorneys who argue that they unduly influence juries. Thankfully, such arguments are often unpersuasive.

Last month, an appellate court in Ohio upheld the conviction of a man who had been convicted of sexually abusing a minor and providing drugs to another minor. His appeal was based on the assertion that the jury was unduly influenced by the presence of a therapy dog during one victim’s testimony. This was in spite of the fact that the dog had remained by the child’s feet and out of jurors’ view.

The appellate court ultimately ruled that the dog was not a distraction; nor did its presence influence jurors. The ruling was especially important because this was the first time in Ohio that an appellate court had heard a case that challenged the use of therapy dogs.

Sexual abuse is a horrific crime. And when victims are asked to testify in court – criminal or civil – they often relive the crime and re-experience the trauma associated with it. If a dog can make testifying even a little bit easier, they should absolutely be used in court.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual abuse, you may be worried about pursuing justice and being asked to face your abuser in court. But as this case demonstrates, there may be ways to make the experience less painful. An experienced and compassionate crime victims attorney can listen to your story and help you understand your rights and options.