The Staten Island district attorney's office has hired a new employee to help comfort crime victims.
Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan introduced Bronksey on Wednesday, a 2-year-old black Labrador/golden retriever mix who has been specially trained to aid crime victims.
Bronksey, who comes to the office from Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit that trains animals for pet-assisted therapy, will be the first dog from that facility used in a New York City prosecutor's office.
His primary role will be to comfort and ease the anxiety of victims or witnesses as they go through the criminal justice process, which tends to be overwhelming for many, Donovan said. CCI donated him to Donovan's office.
“There is something magical about the presence or touch of a loving dog that helps victims forget their pain and fear, if just for a moment, and be able to concentrate on moving forward and healing," Donovan said.
Medical studies have shown that the presence of a friendly animal can result in decreased anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate, an elevation of mood, increased speech and memory functions and heightened mental clarity.
While the use of therapeutic dogs in criminal justice settings is fairly new, early results indicate that canines help victims testify more lucidly and make them more willing to participate in the judicial process, CCI Executive Director Debra Doughterty said.
The therapeutic impact may be particularly profound when it comes to child victims. Donovan cited a case a week ago in which Bronksey calmed the anxiety and fear of a 12-year-old boy waiting to testify before a Staten Island grand jury about the abuse he suffered by a relative.
"As a prosecutor, I feel obligated to do everything I can to make it easier for victims of crime, who must constantly relive what was likely the most physically, psychologically and emotionally traumatizing experience of their lives as they go through the criminal justice process," Donovan said.
The cost to breed, raise, train, and provide ongoing support for a CCI dog is estimated at more than $45,000. Donors enable the nonprofit organization to provide pups like Bronksey free of charge.
Each CCI dog is selected at 8 weeks old and placed with volunteer puppy raisers, who teach the animals basic commands and socialization skills. When the dog is a year and a half old or so, it goes to one of CCI's facilities for six months of advanced training, where it will master more than 50 specialized commands, CCI says.
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