Therapy Puppy Supporting USA Gymnastics Abuse Victims

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
In Lansing, Michigan, a therapy dog is helping the victims of Larry Nassar, a former sports-medicine doctor who has been convicted of abusing USA Gymnastics team members.

It’s been all over the news–USA Gymnastics team members have been sharing the horror and trauma done to them by their team doctor, Larry Nassar, and we’ve watched the victims tearfully express their heartbreak and hurt.

And because those expressions are so traumatic, a small black lab therapy dog named Preston has been coming to the sentence hearings to give support to the victims.

Preston is a therapy dog with Small Talk Children’s Assessment Center in Lansing, Michigan. It’s a non-profit that works with children who are victims of sexual and/or physical abuse, and Preston works with them to help comfort and support them.

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Preston wears a tie or a blue bandana to the hearings, which signals to him that he’s on the job, so to speak, and he is working to comfort those who need it. Alex Brace is the executive director of Small Talk, and says that when the bandana or tie comes off, Preston knows it’s his time to be a regular puppy.

The sentencing trial is taking place in the courtroom of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina in Ingham County Circuit Court, and this is Preston’s home turf. He works with the Prosecutor’s Office to comfort the children who have to testify in court. He’s been there for the victims of Nassar this week as the sentencing trial has taken place.

Over 70 women and girls have given statements in the office, and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office says they believe that up to 100 will give their statements by the time the sentencing happens. Preston has been around to support them all. Many of the victims were from athletes Nassar attended to when part of the USA Olympic gymnastics team, including Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles and Jordyn Wieber. Many of these gymnasts were abused over the course of much of their childhood while on the team, and the testimonies have been highly intense and emotional.

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Preston has supported victims of abuse as they’ve stood to speak by sitting at their feet or just allowing himself to be pet while they are speaking. He’s not appeared near Nassar’s victims on the stand, but he’s been outside the courtroom waiting patiently to give support as they’ve come and gone from the courtroom. Many of the victims found comfort in Preston, and took selfies with him even.

Preston was sworn-in as a canine advocate in 2016, and even has a biography on Small Talk’s website. He is known to not judge, and just be unconditional love for the victims.

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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