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N.Y. Lawmakers Seek to Allow Comfort Dogs at Court

9:06 PM, May 6, 2013   |    comments
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(By Haley Viccaro, Gannett Albany Bureau)   ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York Sen. Terry Gipson, D-Rhinebeck, introduced a law on Monday that would allow facility dogs in the state courts to provide comfort to victims or witnesses during testimony.

Facility dogs are currently used to aid children during testimonies. This new legislation would expand the service to include adults who experienced violent crimes or sexual assault. The proposed legislation would be the first of its kind in the country, Gipson said.

"We have presented a law to the state Senate called Rosie's Law that would give judges, for the first time ever in New York State...the discretion so that any vulnerable witness that the judge felt needed comfort...would have access to a courthouse facility dog," Gipson said during a news conference at the Capitol.

Rosie's Law is named after a golden retriever who was the first assistance dog allowed in a state court. Rosie comforted a 15-year-old girl named Jessica who was a victim of sexual abuse by her father. The man was convicted with a 25-to-life sentence.

Rosie's trainer Sherry Cookinham said the day of Jessica's trial was one of the most amazing experiences she ever had. She said Jessica was nervous during the trial and Rosie sensed her fear and nudged her to help push her testimony forward.

"At one point when the prosecutor looked at Jessica and asked her to point out the person that had done this to her she completely froze," Cookinham said. "Right at that moment Rosie's little nose came up over the witness box and nudged her arm, and that broke that look on her face and she was able to point out the person who did this to her."

Assemblyman Frank Skartados, D-Milton, is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly. He said testifying is stressful for adults and could be terrifying for children. Facility dogs could help individuals provide critical information during a trial.

Skartados said trained dogs provide assistance and comfort for individuals in a range of fields including the police force, military operations, the war on drugs and those with disabilities.

"I think it is time for us to allow judges to make a determination and allow witnesses to testify in the presence of facility dogs that would help ease the anxiety and pain of those victims testifying and witnesses in certain proceedings," Skartados said.

It was unclear whether the legislation would be supported by the leadership in the Senate and Assembly.

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