Pet Therapy

Pet Therapy Program logoThe Twelfth Judicial Circuit provides volunteer pet therapy teams for juvenile dependency hearings and delinquency arraignments to provide comfort and emotional support for court participants, and particularly the children going through the court process. The teams – dogs and their human handlers – undergo and pass evaluations and court-related training. Additionally, the handlers undergo and pass criminal background checks, sign oaths of confidentiality, and are required to carry liability insurance.

Pet therapy teams are identified by their official Twelfth Judicial Circuit ID badge that identifies both handler and pet. The handlers also wear shirts that identifies the handler as a pet therapy team when attending court. Dogs wear the red bandana provided by the court.

Judge Teri Kaklis Dees and Ruby Begonia
Pictured at right is Manatee County Juvenile Court Judge Teresa Dees and Pet Therapy team member Ruby Begonia. Please explore the contents of this page to learn more about our pet therapy teams.

For more information on using therapy dogs in a courtroom setting, please read:

If you and your therapy dog meet the Circuit's Pet Therapy Program criteria and would like to join our team, please complete and submit the following items to Court Administration:

The application materials may be sent to:

Pet Therapy Program
Court Administration - 8th floor
P.O. Box 3000
1051 Manatee Ave. W.
Bradenton, FL 34206

 

Tales from the Teams

I will call her Amber. She is 14-years-old and has been in the “system” since she was very young. Amber is wise beyond her years and has seen and experienced things no young lady should see, let alone experience. Amber’s mothers’ parental rights were terminated years ago. Amber doesn’t know her father. Amber has never found a “forever home” although, she remains in the dependency system waiting to be adopted.

Amber doesn’t necessarily want to be adopted. In fact, she wants to go home to her mom. She believes her mom is better now and they can have a good life together. Amber runs away. She runs away A LOT. She stays with older men while on the run and believes they love her and want to help her. She has used drugs for many years and cuts herself. Although Amber won’t acknowledge it, Amber is in grave danger while on the run. She is susceptible to human trafficking, sexual abuse and worse. She’s been told stories of other girls that have run away and never been seen or heard from again. She was just recently made aware of a young girl whose remains were found after suffering a violent end to her very young life. She appears to listen, although, it doesn’t appear that she’s ready to learn.

Amber trusts very few adults. She believes adults “tricked” her and her mother. As a result of the perceived trickery, she lingers in the “system” with no home and no one to love. Amber does, however, trust Ruby.

Ruby is certified pet therapy dog who has recently begun working in the Dependency Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit. I vividly recall the day Amber and Ruby met. Amber had just come off the run. She was able to contact Kate (her GAL volunteer, whom Amber DOES trust). Kate had a busy day with a full docket in dependency court the day Amber returned. Kate didn’t have any other options, and wanted to keep Amber close and safe. Kate brought Amber to court with her that day. Ruby was there too.

Ruby (her given name is “Ruby Begonia”) is a big, beautiful Bullmastiff. Ruby’s physical size may be considered intimidating to some. Not to Amber. Amber came into court that day, saw Ruby and immediately flopped down on the floor to sit with her. She sat on the floor for what seemed like hours. She snuggled with Ruby, rubbed Ruby’s back and appeared, from my perspective, at least, “at ease”. I wasn’t sure who was comforting whom … but I’m guessing Amber would say she was comforting Ruby. “At ease”… in a courtroom packed with strangers, with numerous challenging and emotional cases being called one after another throughout the day. Through it all, Amber and Ruby remained on the floor. Together. Comforting one another.

Amber ran again. She contacted Kate to come and get her. Once again, Amber was brought into the courtroom. Her name wasn’t on the docket that day either, but she had nowhere else to go. Ruby was there too. Amber and Ruby comforted one another, once again. Amber wanted to talk to the judge. She wanted Ruby to accompany her while she had this difficult talk with yet another adult. Most likely an adult Amber didn’t trust. Ruby accompanied Amber without hesitation. Ruby sat with Amber for almost an hour while Amber shared her fears, frustrations and wants. Amber was in pain. Amber promised not to run again. Perhaps she could volunteer in an animal shelter. Perhaps she could spend time with Ruby outside of court. Ruby sat patiently by Amber, often on Amber’s foot, as Amber carefully chose her words to share late that afternoon. Amber came back to court a few more times that week. She looked good. Refreshed and happier. Amber was able to spend time with Ruby outside of the courtroom that week.

Amber might have run again. One thing is for sure … when Amber is ready to be found, Ruby will be waiting for her in the dependency courtroom to “allow” Amber to comfort her during a long day in court.

--The Honorable Teresa Dees, Manatee County Juvenile Court Judge

A sweet and spirited 4 year old girl loved playing with the dogs when her foster mother brought her to court for a judicial review hearing. Although she was too young to fully grasp the proceedings, being able to snuggle with puppies helped to ease the boredom of a long afternoon in the courtroom. She even brought one of the dogs up with her when her hearing was finally called. The day got even better when she found out that she was going to move to Ohio to stay with her grandma and big sister.

--Department of Children and Families Case Manager

I was in Judge Dees’ court yesterday afternoon to attend a hearing for one of my Guardian Ad Litem boys and due to scheduling I was there all afternoon. I was able to observe the PAWS doggies and their handlers, the interactions with others in the court and ask a few people I know from GAL what they thought of the dogs being in court. The unanimous opinion was that it's absolutely wonderful having the dogs in court. Not only do the children enjoy the interaction, the parents, the employees of the court, the attorneys and Judge Dees obviously love it. I noticed more smiles in court than I have ever seen.

I noticed people going out of their way to take a "doggie break." I noticed one little boy who was having a very difficult afternoon sit with one of the dogs. It seemed to calm him greatly. In fact, he was able to speak in court, which I'm sure was very difficult for him. Without the support, I question whether or not he would have been calm enough to speak. I could go on, but I want everyone to know what a significant and meaningful improvement it is having both the dogs and the handlers in court. Thank you all!

--GAL Volunteer

Pet Therapy Teams

dog with white fur Brooke and Mary (handler)

Brooke, a goldador, got her therapy certification in 2016. She goes to All Children's Hospital to visit the families there and also visits students at Ringling College and patients at Tidewell Hospice. Brooke is currently our only married dog. She married her dog husband (Gunner) at a Dog Dress Up Halloween Party in 2015. She wore a gown, he wore a tux, and the ceremony was officiated by a human dressed as a Dalmatian!

large dog with white fur Daisy and Nancy (handler)

Daisy, an English cream golden retriever, is a rescue dog and became a registered Pet Partners Therapy Dog in 2016. Daisy is a Suncoast Humane Society Pet Therapy Team member with a Canine Good Citizen certificate. She participates in the Doggie Tales reading program at the Jacaranda and Elsie Quirk Libraries. She also enjoys visiting several grades of the Island Village Montessori School, and residents of Harbor Chase and the Loveland Center in Venice and special festivals to promote the Suncoast Humane Society.

small dog with curly red fur Fiona Marie and Diane (handler)

Fiona Marie, a miniature red poodle, has been a pet therapy dog for seven years. Diane describes Fiona Marie as “a big heart covered in her stylish poodle-do.” In Ohio Fiona Marie became an AKC Good Citizen and was an Ambassador Dog with Geauga Humane Society's Rescue Village, working with children in camps, schools and hospitals. After moving to Florida she became a PAWS volunteer and was named “Most Therapeutic Dog” by the Community Association Institute and was pictured in their May/June 2017 magazine “Common Ground”.

small dog with curly red fur Gracie and Marjori (handler)

Gracie is a Havanese, the official dog breed of Cuba, and became certified in 2015. She has been part of the reading program at local schools and Girls Inc., and visits New College Students.

large dog with white furLance and Nan (handler)

Lance, a Great Pyrenees who is a rescue dog, became a therapy dog in 2015. He visits hospitals, nursing homes and the VA Outpatient Center, does “Friday Walkabouts” at the State Attorney’s Office, visits students at New College and Ringling College, and participates in reading programs in local schools and libraries. Lance is Nan’s third therapy dog.

dog with curly tan fur Oliver and Gay (handler)

Oliver, an Australian Labradoodle, has been a therapy pet since 2009. His other activities include health care community efforts sponsored by Doctor’s Hospital and the Red Cross and the Doggie Tales Learn to Read programs at local libraries. Oliver is also a PAWS volunteer and visits residents at Loveland Center and at local schools and universities.

large dog with tan fur Pebbles and Kathy (handler)

Pebbles, a golden retriever, has been a member of the Suncoast Humane Society Pet Therapy Team since June 2017. She regularly visits the Venice Senior Friendship Center, the Doggie Tales Program at Jacaranda Library and Loveland Center. She has also been a part of some special events that include the Doctors Hospital Pet Therapy Celebration, the Pulse Memorial Service in Orlando, the Living Well Expo in Venice and a number of church memorial services.

large black dog Punky and Kecia (handler)

Punky, a Labrador Retriever, received both her Canine Good Citizen award and her Therapy Dog certificate in 2017. She is a Child Advocate graduate from the Southeastern Guide Dog organization. Punky and her handler are both volunteers for the Guardian Ad Litem program.

large brown dog Ruby Begonia and Luann (handler)

Ruby Begonia, a Bullmastiff, visits nursing homes and is a PAWS volunteer. Luann raises Bullmastiffs and certifies pet therapy dogs on behalf of Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dog, Inc.

small white dog with tan spots Scout and Jackie (handler)

Scout, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel became a therapy dog in 2017. He’s involved with Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s Staff Pet Therapy Services Fun Fur Reading Program; is a PAWS volunteer, participates in the Sarasota Humane Society Education Program; and does Dog Safety/Pet Therapy “Friday Walkabouts” at the State Attorney’s Offices.

small white dog with brown spots Stella and Nina (handler)

Stella, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, has been a therapy dog since 2016 and works in both Florida and New York. Stella loves children and is active in pet therapy groups in both states. Her Florida activities include volunteering with PAWS and the Reading Fur Fun program at Suncoast School for Innovative Studies.

12th Judicial Circuit Pet Therapy Program