A recent sexual assault trial in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., featured the use of a therapy dog placed on the witness stand to comfort the teenaged victim during her testimony. It was the first use of a judicially approved courtroom dog in New York, and legal experts cite a trend, according to the New York Times. Since 2003, courts in Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana and some other states have allowed such trained dogs to offer children and other vulnerable witnesses nuzzling solace in front of juries.
The Poughkeepsie trial ended with a conviction, and an appeal planned by the defense lawyers is placing the golden retriever named Rosie at the heart of a legal debate that will test whether there will be more dogs in courtrooms. 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.