In Nîmes, a court dog

The meeting will take place in front of the court of Nîmes. That day, 16-year-old Laura* met Rancho. This young black Labrador will accompany him to the trial of his father whom he accused of incest. The teen first needs to bond through play. “taken”, “sat down”, “sleep”, “skin”he said to his short-lived partner. “She’s beautiful, I like her!”Laura smiled.

“I never expected to have a dog with me in court. The judge only offered it to me to make me feel more comfortable in the trial. I will think about holding the dog and not looking at the accused” , explained the woman. He held the red ribbon as his father entered the courtroom. “He hasn’t seen his father for a long time, he’s stressed about it, so he turns his back on him and stares at the dog.”describes his lawyer.

Rancho left the court of the court of Nîmes, after a trial in an incest case
Rancho left the court of the court of Nîmes, after a trial in an incest case

© Radio France
– Mathilde Vincenneux

Master Florence Espinouse confessed that she first considered this dog to be “a gimmick”. “I don’t believe it, he breathes, but it must be recognized that it is useful for victims who live in a very difficult moment during the confrontation with their attacker”. To best help the teenager, Rancho was guided by his referents, two firefighters from the Saint-Gilles (Gard) barracks.

From a distance, with silent hand gestures, Captain Nicolas Baro told Rancho what to do. “Sometimes, he looks at me and I can tell him to stay a little longer or sleep for example. Of course, in the middle of the hearing, we don’t talk”, he explained. The court bell rang. The judges took their turn and Rancho lay down at Laura’s feet, in front of the plaintiffs’ bench. The fireman was watching him from the back of the room.

An emotional crutch of free speech

The Labrador pressed his head against Laura when she began to cry, while the president questioned his father and described the acts of sexual assault. The dog came several times to comfort him before falling asleep and even snored softly during the defense argument. After more than three hours of listening, Rancho was tired. Laura handed him a piece of candy as she left the room. “He’s really there even when he’s sleeping. He feels so many emotions, every time I cry”said the woman.

“He absorbed a lot of stress and that’s what tired him the most.“, analyzes Captain Nicolas Baro. The owner should pay attention to the signs that may indicate a malaise in the animal. Sudden dandruff in his black hair, grunting, heavy breathing, “Too many lines to cross”, summed up the firefighter. Rancho’s schedule has been adjusted again. He will not work more than three days a week, by order of the magistrates.

“This is the mascot”

The training of this gift dog, which costs 17,000 euros, and the cost of food, care and transportation, are fully covered by associations, especially France Victims and the Royal Canin Foundation. He was at the fire station. So it costs nothing in court, where everyone knows it. He was even given a carpet and toys at the presidency secretariat. “This is the mascot“, summed up Véronique Compan, the deputy prosecutor of Nîmes.

The magistrate made sure that the return of Rancho’s presence was very positive. Labrador is used mainly to accompany children inside the house. “Melanie“. Here the hearings of minors take place in front of the gendarmes or the police in cases of sexual violence. His presence allows the victims to speak. “It is beneficial for everyone because it helps the victim and it also helps the magistrates who, as a result, collect elements that could be lost”, observes Véronique Compan.

But Rancho doesn’t just help victims. He can also go to the other side of the bar and join the accused. Help them talk, maybe even confess. The young Labrador was the first dog to accompany a defendant. This is in the attempt of the bus accident in Millas that caused the death of six college students. Rancho rested his head on the driver’s lap as he was questioned at length in the court in Marseille.

Due to the success of the experience in Nîmes but also in Cahors, Nevers, Angers, Strasbourg and Orléans, other courts have requested to benefit from the presence of legal assistance dogs. Seven more Labradors are expected to enter service by 2025.

*Name has been changed to preserve the teenager’s anonymity.

Rancho was guided by referent firefighters from the Caserne de Saint-Gilles (Gard)
Rancho was guided by referent firefighters from the Caserne de Saint-Gilles (Gard)

© Radio France
– Mathilde Vincenneux

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