Golden retriever makes court appearance to help abuse victim get through trial

An emotional support golden retriever helped a teenage girl testify against her abuser in a rare court appearance.

The six-year-old dog accompanied a teen girl for around 90 minutes while she was cross-examined during the trial of a man accused of abusing her, legal sources said.

The girl had initially refused to testify in court until the the dog was allowed to accompany her,Yokohama-based group Tsunagg reports.

The girl said: "It was nice (the dog) was there."

Courthouse dogs are trained to provide psychological support to children who have suffered trauma from incidents such as abuse so they can overcome the stress that may be caused during interviews by investigators, according to a group supporting the girl and other abuse victims.

At present, there are four courthouse dogs in Japan and the group believes the case is the first in which a dog has appeared in court.

Dogs typically provide behind-the-scenes support at welfare centres.

Permission for the dog to take the stand with the girl came after the court was presented documents which proved she had a mental health condition.

The court was also presented with a statement from her doctor warning her post-traumatic stress disorder could deteriorate if she appeared in court without the support dog, which had accompanied the girl during interviews with prosecutors.

The courthouse dog system started in the United States in 2012, and there were said to be about 250 dogs operating across the country as of July.

"Children who have become unable to trust others as a result of abuse can still trust courthouse dogs that just stay close to them and (help them) feel secure, as they help reduce their mental burdens," said Mariko Yamamoto, a lecturer at Teikyo University of Science and a member of the Yokohama-based group Tsunagg.

"As it was proven that courthouse dogs are effective in reducing (the mental) burden on children who have to testify at court, we hope (the government) will institutionalise [the practice]."

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