FOUR PAWS, ONE CAUSE

Twelfth Judicial Circuit Pet Therapy Program

Pet Therapy Team Members

Picture of Daisy

Daisy, a certified therapy dog with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, is a mini goldendoodle.  In addition to providing therapy to children and adults in the Court Pet Therapy Program, she shares smiles and joy with residents at Clairebridge Memory Care facility in Sun City Center. She and her handler, Ellen, are a registered R.E.A.D. team (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) and they volunteer as reading mentors at the elementary school. Daisy’s favorite hobbies include fetching balls, chasing bubbles / bunnies / lizards, swimming and going for car rides.

Picture of Brooke

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!

Picture of Stella

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.

Picture of Buddy

Buddy, a miniature golden doodle, is a bird dog – a "Snowbird" dog. He spends the winters in Bradenton, and once had a close encounter with an alligator. Buddy has been doing therapy work since he was one-year-old. Places he visits include psychiatric wards, alcohol and drug rehab, airports, libraries and public events. He loves to jump high in the air for balls, pick up sticks, and be with his other therapy dog friends. Be sure to pet him and check out his soft fur.

Picture of Django

Django, a Bullmastiff, is a former show dog who has found his true calling as a therapy dog. He loves everyone and his whole life revolves around belly rubs.

Picture of Bentley

Bentley was certified as a pet therapy dog in August 2022. He is 2-1/2-years-old and is known for his smile and happy demeanor. He loves to cuddle, have his ears rubbed and, of course, endless belly rubs! Bentley knows how to warm your heart and make you laugh. You'll want to hug him when you meet him!

Picture of Biscuit

Biscuit was certified as a therapy dog in 2022. He visits hospice patients, sits while kids read to him at local libraries and he’s an advocate for Child Protection Center. Biscuit loves EVERYONE and EVERYTHING he meets!

The Twelfth Judicial Circuit provides volunteer pet therapy teams for Early Childhood Court hearings and other select dependency hearings to provide comfort and emotional support for court participants, and particularly the children going through the court process.

Potential therapy dog volunteers must be able to sit quietly with kids (and adults!) who need comfort or affection. The animals must be fully vaccinated, well-groomed (including trimmed nails) and gentle. The dog must be able to make it through a work shift, which can be tiring and stressful. The dog must enjoy being touched. Most of all, the dog must be calm. The court environment can be tense, so we look to therapy dogs to help people relax, think doggie couch-potatoes. If your dog is highly energetic and easily excited, pet therapy is not the right fit for your pooch.

Other qualities of an ideal therapy dog include:

  • Affection for all people he/she encounters
  • A willingness to voluntarily seek out and interact with people
  • A tolerance for physical discomfort (ear tugging, fur grabbing, tail pulling)
  • The ability to go with the flow and not become spooked or unsettled by people, places or things (elevators, different floor surfaces, stairwells, loud noises, etc.)

The teams – dogs and their human handlers – undergo and pass evaluations and court-related training. Additionally, the handlers undergo and pass criminal background checks and sign oaths of confidentiality. Handlers are required to have dogs that are certified pet therapy animals and must annually provide proof of current membership in an underlying pet therapy organization along with a copy of the liability insurance policy provided by the pet therapy organization.

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

[ THERAPY DOGS IN THE NEWS ]

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.

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!

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.

Pet Therapy Logo

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:

Please send application materials to:

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