Tallahassee, FL – Several specially trained animal therapy teams were sworn-in to the Second Judicial Circuit Courthouse Therapy Dogs Program during a 5 p.m. ceremony at the Leon County Courthouse on Thursday, April 18 - bringing the current total to 17 teams, with more in training.
The Courthouse Therapy Dog program provides victims and witnesses who are testifying with support and reassurance during court appearances, including deposition, hearings and trial. Experience has shown that the dogs can make a tremendous difference, especially with children – who are then able to give more clear and accurate testimony.
“Testifying in court can be a traumatic experience for adults – and even more so for children,” said Stephanie Perkins, Program Director of Tallahassee Memorial’s Animal Therapy Program. “We have had people report that they, their child or loved one could not have made it through their deposition or have done as well without the presence of the dog.”
Started in 2007, the program is the first court-sponsored animal therapy program in Florida and one of the largest in the country. Tallahassee Memorial’s Animal Therapy Program provides the animal therapy teams to the Second Judicial Circuit at no cost to the circuit.
The recently sworn in teams are part of a 100+ group of volunteers and their pets who have undergone training and evaluations in working with children, as well as courthouse procedures and protocols. Teams working in dependency court typically work over 100 dockets a year in Leon and Wakulla County and have made over 50 visits for criminal trials.
Court officials have reported that it helps make the process of talking with people – especially children – much easier by reducing anxiety and lifting a load off them, helping them gather more details to make better decisions in cases.
“The dogs really, really help relax the kids and give them something to have fun with and occupy them while they are waiting to come into the courtroom,” said Circuit Judge Jill Walker. “The result is that when I get people coming into court, they are not weighed down. It makes my job easier, and talking about the dogs gives me an entryway for dialogue.”
Yesterday’s ceremony marked the largest group of dogs sworn-in to date, and there are plans to continue expanding the program as more teams are trained and evaluated.