At the Millas trial, two support dogs to “soak up emotions” – France

For the first time in France, two dogs simultaneously the victims and the questioning during a trial. “This technique is a support device and cannot be considered a gimmick”, it is there to “allow you to bear the emotional burden of this trial”, warned at the opening of the proceedings on Monday, the president of the court correctional officer of Marseille, Céline Ballerini.

In this courtroom, the driver of a school car collided with a train in 2017 in Millas (Pyrénées-Orientales) is judged. Six children died, 17 were injured.

On several occasions during the hearing, the defendant, Nadine Oliveira, could not hold back her tears. Rancho, the black Labrador who accompanies her at her request in the hardest times, gets up whenever he sends that she needs him. She caresses him, then her eyes dart to the ground, her hand clinging to the red leash.

The golden retriever Ouchi is available to the victims. (Nicolas Tucat/AFP)

At the back of the room, Ouchi, a golden retriever, is at the disposal of the victims. On Tuesday, he accompanied two teenage girls in their testimony. “He also helped two mothers of deceased children who learned of their last moments at the hearing,” reports Aurore Bourcereau, director of the France Victimes de la Nièvre association, who came especially with the animal.

An animal mediation that “liberates speech”

This “legal assistance dog” system is already highly developed in North America. In France, the device is beginning to prove itself in investigations and has recently arrived in the courtroom. This is the first time that it has also been made available to a defendant.

“This animal mediation liberates speech, builds confidence. It is an external reassurance device which reduces stress, heart rate and therefore facilitates testimony, ”said Jérôme Moreau, vice-president of the France Victimes federation.

Labradors and Golden Retrievers are known for their calm, their sense of empathy and contact with humans. They are half a dozen trained today in France, including Rancho, attached to the court of Nîmes and managed by the firefighters of Gard, or Ouchi, which has its associates in Nièvre. The training costs around 17,000 euros, according to Florian Auffret, research and development officer at the Handi’chiens association.

“From serenity to the victims”

In Lyon, Lol came specially from Cahors (Lot) for an investigation. He “distributed freedom to the victims and was able to free the floor during extremely trying hearings”, underlines the president of the judicial court Michaël Janas who asked that his court be equipped with a dog.

“Hearing is not an easy passage to live… As soon as the dog saw that I was a little stressed, he spontaneously came into contact, clung to me, put his head down, or felt my hand. I find my calm”, report for his part Eric (assumed name), 39, one of the 30 declared of a male victim accused of having raped and sexually assaulted minors.

I fell backwards from everything the little one could say that she hadn’t said before

The prosecutor of Lyon, Nicolas Jacquet plans to invite the animal at different stages, “in the premises of the investigation services, in the offices of the judges or in public hearing”.

Chief warrant officer Jérôme Lapp, one of Rancho’s referents, remembers a trial in June in Marseille where a teenager had to testify in front of her theater teacher, tried for sexually tested.

“The president had a phobia of dogs, but she wanted to test him before the Millas trial and I fell in awe of everything the little one could say that she had not said before. She said to me: “the dog took me to his bubble”. She felt like she was talking to him, ”explains the firefighter.

After two and a half hours of hearing, Rancho was exhausted: “He came to see me and he started snoring in the middle of the hearing”.

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