Courtroom dog comforts abused children during trial

Imagine being a child set to face a person in court who did something horrible to you. Just the thought of testifying can make a victim shut down.

Here in Austin there is a calming presence prosecutors can call upon to help the children through the difficult process.

In this week's Crime Watch, FOX 7's Noelle Newton introduces you to the golden retriever with a golden purpose.

Sidney the golden retriever is doing what she does best:  just being there.

"She's a presence,” said owner Miriam Jansky.

Up until a few years ago, she was simply a pet, but owner Miriam Jansky, saw a need for Sidney's gentle spirit at her workplace--the Center for Child Protection.

"She's able to talk to people in a way that we can't,” said Jansky.

Jansky is the director of trauma services. She counsels kids who have been sexually and physically abused.

"We see kids who come in. They are fearful. They're angry. They don't trust,” said Jansky. "A lot of our kids, their idea of human beings is they're bad."

Then, in comes Sidney.

"They know she'll be here. If she's not here, they'll ask. That’s a huge deal for kids who have learned that nobody cares,” said Jansky.

Over time, Sidney's job has expanded from counseling sessions to following victims through the court process. That begins with trial preparation. Children as young as five can be called to testify against their perpetrators.

"Sometimes what happens is they find kids who are absolutely shut down. They are horrified, terrified and can barely speak,” said Jansky.

Travis County Assistant District Attorney Allison Benesch has requested Sidney's help.

"Sometimes when a child wasn't comfortable talking to us, we could say could you tell Sidney what happened? We'd have kids who would lift Sidney's ear and say this is what my uncle did to me,” said Benesch.

When the trial comes around, Sidney waits with the victims. When they get on the stand, she does too. Jansky cites a recent case.

"When she got on the stand, she was shaking and trembling and Sidney put her paw on her leg and she found a way and she did it,” said Jansky.

The Center for Child Protection will bring another dog on staff this fall. Jansky says Sidney, who is 10 now, will not retire any time soon.

"Sidney does and is what I can never be. Sidney is an anchor in a raging storm that for our kids is the criminal justice system. For her to be in there and allowed to be in there is a real gift to our community,” said Jansky.

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