Essay: Should Therapy Dogs Be Allowed in the Courtroom?

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[. . .] Rosie made such a powerful impression in the courtroom that a law was recently proposed in the New York legislature to allow therapy dogs to allow traumatized victims of all ages to have the comfort and support of a dog.

The law has yet to be passed and the question of a dog's appropriateness in the courtroom as a comforting device remains controversial. After all, unlike a service dog that has a function of mobility, the therapy dog specifically is there to interact with the witness. The dog's body language and demeanor is comforting and conveys an impression of support and validation in a manner that a service dog does not. The standard of evidence in a criminal courtroom is 'beyond a reasonable doubt,' a very high standard, and it is often said that it is better to let a guilty man go free than to condemn an innocent man. Given the risks of biasing a jury with the image of a dog that apparently supports the victim, constitutionality if not sentiment would seem to weigh against the allowance of therapy dogs like Rosie

Of course, proponents would note how difficult it is to testify in a rape trial. One reason rape is such a difficult crime to prosecute is that so many victims are unwilling to come forward. There remains a tendency to 'blame the victim' which can make victims reluctant to bear the judgment and scrutiny of talking about such a personal matter in the courtroom. Also, women and children's victimization in society as a whole will increase if perpetrators are convinced that their victims will not come forward out of fear of censure. Finally, it could also be argued that the demeanor of any witness cannot be legislated -- it is not illegal to encourage a defendant to dress in a manner that makes him look respectable, for example. Jurors are supposed to have the intelligence to weigh such factors as the fact that a witness is wearing a tie or a dog is sitting on the lap of a child in relation to the credibility of the testimony. That is the foundation of the American jury system.

There is no doubt that a trial is a stressful place. "Courtrooms are undoubtedly frightening and intimidating places, especially for victims of violent crime. After all, the victim is testifying about a traumatic experience in front of people who are actively trying to prove that he or she is not telling the truth" (The courtroom dog controversy, 2011, Animal Planet). However, this cannot be used as a rationale to deprive people of their legal rights, including the right to a fair trial. It is understandable to wish to defend the victim in the trial that used Rosie, given that one's heart naturally sides with the victim in this scenario and is apt to believe a young girl vs. her victimizer. But a jury must look at a case with a blank slate, not with a natural bias in favor of a girl and her dog's adorableness, especially when the dog seems to support the dog's every word.

One cannot expect jurors to be experts on dog behavior and able to screen out Rosie's actions, even if they were instructed to do so by the judge. As one defense attorney said: "As someone who has had the unpleasant task of having to cross examine a child witness on a number of occasions, I cannot imagine trying to do so while the witness has Lassie on her lap. The already daunting task of trying to establish reasonable doubt in these types of cases would be made nearly impossible with the canine testimony enablers" (Michelen 2011). The legal implications could be nightmarish -- having to potentially recuse avowed dog lovers from juries with therapy dogs present -- and ultimately, in the instance of justice, sanity rather than sentiment must prevail.


The courtroom dog controversy. (2011). Animal Planet. Retrieved from:

Glaberson, W. (2011). By helping a girl testify at a rape trial, a dog ignites a legal debate.

The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Michelen, G. (2011). Dog helps child victim testify in court it is helpful but is it fair. Courtroom Strategy. Retrieved from:

Palma, C. (2011). Rosie's law. Corrections. Retrieved from: [END OF PREVIEW]

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Should Therapy Dogs Be Allowed in the Courtroom?.  (2014, March 2).  Retrieved September 21, 2019, from

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"Should Therapy Dogs Be Allowed in the Courtroom?."  March 2, 2014.  Accessed September 21, 2019.