Local therapy dog recognized for comforting children in court

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PLATTE CITY, Mo. -- A therapy dog today is being honored for helping young crime victims testify in court about traumas they've experienced.

Rasta the therapy dog comforts children who have to swear to tell the truth.

As part of National Crime Victims' Rights Week, every year Platte County presents an award to recognize assistance provided to crime victims.

This year, Rasta is being honored for accompanying two young sisters to court in January, as they told a jury about sexual abuse they suffered.

The 4-year-old golden retriever is trained to provide unconditional love to children, allowing them to dig into his soft fur, as they recount horrors they have survived or relive painful experiences through questioning.

"What we have found is that having that dog present, either during a deposition or even while that child is testifying on the stand, that because the animal helps the child become more comfortable that we do a better job of eliciting truthful information about some really terrible things that may have happened to that child," said Eric Zahnd, Platte County Prosecutor. "That’s what this whole thing is about, is about getting to the truth. And doing it in a way that hopefully does not retraumatize that child."

Platte County is the only prosector's office in the metro that regularly uses a therapy dog to help child victims. Zahnd says it's widely used across the nation and he hopes other prosecutors around Kansas City will join him in trying to make the criminal justice process less painful for victims.

Rasta's owner and handler is the clinical director at the social service agency Synergy Services. The pure bred golden retriever was specially screened for the right temperament to calm children, particularly in a crowd.

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