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Comfort dog aids girls facing alleged sexual abusers in court

TOLEDO, Ohio -- A 14-year-old girl who says she escaped a basement where she was chained and handcuffed by two relatives who she says touched her sexually, faced the two men in court Tuesday as a comfort dog sat at her feet.

The girl testified that she was often held in the basement as punishment by 53-year-old Timothy Ciboro and his 28-year-old son, Esten Ciboro, her step-father and step-brother, according to CBS affiliate WTOL.

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Timothy Ciboro, left, and Esten Ciboro, righ WTOL

Both are on trial and have pleaded not guilty to charges including rape, kidnapping and child endangering. The girl’s testimony wrapped up around noon on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, another girl, 9, who had been in the care of the Ciboros, took the stand and described alleged abuse.

The two men are serving as their own attorneys, and questioned the teen after she described being shackled by the ankle to a support beam in the darkened room for different lengths of time.

Both girls had the comfort dog next to them on the witness stand as they faced their alleged abusers, reports WTOL. The two-and-a-half year old Golden Retriever named Anna is part of the Comfort Dog Ministry Program at a South Toledo church, reports the station.

“A dog can, in particular Anna, can make just about anybody feel comfortable. That’s her job,” the dog’s handler Nancy Borders told WTOL. ”That’s what she’s trained to do.”           

During her testimony, the teen occasionally paused to pet or smile at the comfort dog. 

Defense attorneys had initially argued against allowing the dog to sit alongside the girls during testimony, WTOL reported, arguing it could lend “an inference that the person has been victimized and it also can also add an element of sympathy.” But prosecutors argued that having the girls answer questions from the men who allegedly abused them would be traumatic, the station reported.

A judge ultimately allowed the comfort dog to stand by.

The prosecution wrapped up its questioning of the teen in about two hours on Tuesday, reports WTOL, but the defendants questioned her at length in testimony that spanned into Wednesday. 

Prosecutors said the girl suffered both physical and mental abuse before she used a spare key to escape last summer when she was 13 years old.

Officers found leg irons in the basement along with a bucket the girl said she used as a toilet, according to a police report.

The girl, whose mother was living in Las Vegas at the time, and two other children, were living with the two men.

At one point during her testimony, the girl told Timothy Ciboro to stop referring to himself as her dad. “You didn’t treat me like a dad,” she said to Ciboro.

“You think I like punishing you?” Ciboro responded.

“I would say the sexual touching you enjoyed,” answered the teen.

The girl testified her punishment for wetting the bed worsened from being spanked, to being locked in a bathroom to being chained in the basement, she said.

The father and son tried to point out that they had provided her with a home, clothes and food. Esten Ciboro put an emphasis on transcripts and statements the girl gave to police, WTOL reports.

The girl said she first told police that she had not been sexually abused and only mentioned it several months later.

After the teen stepped down Wednesday, the nine-year-old took the stand. Some in the courtroom could be heard weeping as she described alleged abuse.