• Cierra Bynum

Therapy dog helps victims of abuse gain courage to testify in court

Preston, a therapy dog, wore a blue tie on Jan.19, 2018, day four of the hearing for Larry Nassar, a former sports-medicine osteopath who has admitted to and is currently on trial for sexual abuse.

This black lab was placed outside of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s courtroom this week as the victims confronted Nassar, according to USA Today.

Nassar, who is 54 years old, pleaded guilty in November of 2017 to ten counts of sexual assault. These charges could result in 20 to 40 years of jail time.

On Jan. 18, 2018, 68 woman and girls gave their statements. The Michigan Attorney General’s Office expects that more than 100 women will give their statements before Jude Aquilina announces Nassar’s sentence.

These statements have been “emotional, prompting tears, and occasionally applause from the court.” Some of the women even glared at Nassar and told him how he devastated their lives.

Confronting an abuser can be traumatic, but with Preston it helps them feel protected, according to USA Today. Sometimes Preston joins the plaintiffs in the stands to provide comfort. Preston did not appear inside the courtroom in this case, but he did sit outside the courtroom, providing comfort as they went in and confronted Nassar.

Everyone stopped to pet the black lab, including attorneys, victims, family members, and even news reporters; many also took selfies with him. Preston provided a rare moment of happiness before the victims shared their testimony.

"He's got an incredible sense of whenever someone's in pain. He'll go right up to the person who needs it the most and start nuzzling them. He seems to know exactly what's needed,” Ashley Vance, a Small Talk crisis counselor who works as Preston's handler, told USA Today.

The two-year-old puppy has undergone vast training to become a therapy dog. Preston was trained at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in Iowa through Prison Puppies Program.

“Preston offers a sense of ease that no human could provide. The kids know Preston will never judge them. It’s unconditional love," Vance also told USA Today.