As more than 100 women testified about abuse at the hands of disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, a furry friend waited in the halls to provide support.
Preston, a therapy dog, lingered outside the Lansing, Mich., courtroom during most of the trial to offer a comforting paw.
“I have two dogs at home, so for me, it was really comforting,” Samantha Ursch, 29, told InsideEdition.com.
Ursch, of Orlando, Fla., flew to Michigan to testify about abuse she suffered as a gymnast at Central Michigan University, where Nassar became the team doctor in 1997. She was in the courtroom for all seven days of Nassar’s sentencing hearing.
“I was very nervous getting ready to go up and testify,” she explained. “Getting up and having everyone hear my story and what occurred, as well as confronting him and being in front of him again [was] pretty terrifying.”
Whether snoozing or sniffing around, Preston’s presence helped ease nerves among the women who were speaking out.
“It’s a really difficult day for everyone involved,” said Preston’s handler Ashley Vance, of the Small Talk Children’s Assessment Center. “It’s just an opportunity to have a little bit of a distraction, to get their minds off things for however short it may be.”
Preston even wore a dog-sized tie — which tells him it’s time to work — to look presentable outside court.
Vance explained the attorney general’s office had reached out to her organization, hoping that bringing in a therapy dog would be an added resource to helping the survivors find ease in a stressful time.
“They have their support people in there but sometimes they need the added level of support,” Vance said. “They are traveling really far distances and leaving their family and pets behind, so I think it is just a great sense of comfort for them to have something available like a pet.”
Nassar was sentenced Wednesday to a maximum of 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting athletes in his care.
“I was extremely happy with Judge Rosemarie Aquilina and her sentence,” Ursch said. “I trusted her to be able to impose the right one, and I think she did what she thought was best for everyone. I was very happy that he is not going to be out of prison to harm anybody else ever again.”