Nassau D.A. dog helps relax victims, witnesses

Spending time with Mega can help just about anyone. The 4-year-old yellow Labrador retriever is an important member of the Special Victims Bureau in the Nassau County District Attorney's Office. She helps children and adults involved in cases including child abuse, domestic violence, and sex trafficking.

"Mega does for them what we can't," D.A. Madeleine Singas said. "We can't get them to relax to the point where they want to talk to us, some people, but Mega can."

Canine Companions for Independence trained Mega as a facility dog. She knows over 50 commands that always amaze kids. Her wags and wiggles make it a little easier for people who have dealt with trauma to open up.

"There are a number of them in the Virginia area. We have a few up in Massachusetts, and we have Mega here and we have one in Staten Island," said Debra Dougherty, executive director of the Canine Companions for Independence's Northeast Division.

The use of a dog in a courtroom testifying with a witness is very new in New York State. Nassau prosecutors are waiting for the appropriate case to ask the judge for permission.

"Being able to pet Mega when they feel particularly stressed will allow witnesses to be able to talk about things that are going to be very difficult for them to talk about," said Deputy Bureau Chief Amanda Burke, Mega's handler. She said her partner has been involved in hundreds of cases since she started in 2014.

"With small children, she'll very often lay down and be very calm and not really move around a lot because she seems to intuitively know that that is intimidating," Burke said. "Whereas with an older child, she's much more wiggly and playful."

While the outcome of any trial will always be up to a jury, the victims find solace with Mega by their side.