When a 15-year-old rape victim from Poughkeepsie, New York, took the stand to testify against her father last summer, she wasn't alone. In the witness box, at her feet, sat Rosie, a golden retriever, who snuggled up close to the girl as she reported how her father had molested and impregnated her, The New York Times reported this week, and when the girl hesitated, Rosie pushed her gently with her nose and encouraged her to keep talking.

The father was eventually convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. But his team of lawyers are launching an appeal that could send this case all the way to New York's highest court. Their reason for the appeal? Rosie.

Citing "prosecutorial misconduct," the defense's lawyers say that allowing the dog into the courtroom was emotionally manipulative. "Every time she stroked the dog," defense lawyer David S. Martin told The New York Times, "it sent an unconscious message to the jury that she was under stress because she was telling the truth." Having a dog on the stand in this case, Martin feels, prejudiced the jury to side with the prosecution and compromised his client's constitutional right to a fair trial.
District Attorney Kristine Hawlk, who handled the case, says that's nonsense. And "testimony enablers" such as therapy dogs are becoming more common, according to the advocacy group Courthouse Dogs, which claims that the presence of a trained therapy dog not only can help bring comfort to child victims, but can humanize the courthouse process overall. Comforting child victims through the emotionally fraught process of testifying in court is not without precedent; in 1994, a New York appeals court ruled that a young child could take a teddy bear along to the witness stand.

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