Courthouse Therapy Dog History and Statistics
In August 2006 the Second Judicial Circuit partnered with the Office of the State Attorney, Guardian Ad Litem and the Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy Program to plan an animal therapy in the courts program for children and vulnerable adults testifying in criminal and dependency court matters. Hundreds of clinical trials show that petting a dog reduces blood pressure and heart rate, thus reducing stress and anxiety. The goal of the program is to have the dogs provide comfort to reduce anxiety, resulting in more accurate testimony, allowing judges to make better decisions.
The first use of an animal therapy team by the Second Judicial Circuit was in August 2007 when Peggy Winship and Mickey, a Golden Retriever, assisted two child victims with trial preparation and returned the next day to wait with the children until time for them to testify during the trial. Because of this initial success, the state attorney victim advocates inform all child victims and vulnerable adults of the program, and this service is provided to all child victims and vulnerable adults who feel they would benefit. Teams are now routinely used in depositions, trial preparation, as well as jury trials.
Due to the success in the criminal courts, in December 2009, at the request of Wakulla County Judge Jill Walker, TMH animal therapy teams Mary Pat Morris and Ruggles (Clumber Spaniel), Bobbie Jo Finer and Honey Girl (Miniature Dachshund), Julie Bogenrief and Coxton (German Shepard) and Mike Bogenreif and Heike (German Shepard) made the first animal therapy visits in the dependency court in Wakulla County. Not only was this a first for the circuit, it was a first for the State of Florida. Judge Walker's concept was to provide a positive court environment for children involved in the dependency system so they would be willing to talk with her about their cases. This concept spread to Leon County in March 2010 when Judge Dawn Caloca-Johnson also began using TMH animal therapy teams for dependency cases, and later to Gadsden County when Magistrate Ace Pedroso began using animal therapy teams in March 2014. In July 2014, Don Cuppy and his Golden Retriever, Casey, assisted in an emergency dependency hearing before Judge Karen Gievers. This case involved a 13 year old girl with special needs who also had been a victim of a violent crime not related to the dependency case. Through the course of the next year Mr. Cuppy and Casey made seven court visits on behalf of this child. On August 13, 2015, Mr. Cuppy and Casey once again appeared in court on behalf of the child to assist with a final adoption hearing. As with most celebratory occasions, many pictures were taken, and the court asked Mr. Cuppy and Casey to join in the photographs since they were an integral part of the court process.
In addition to assisting in the criminal and dependency courts, the Courthouse Animal Therapy Program teams have also been used in circuit civil and domestic violence cases, and have assisted in special court related events including Adoption Day, Bring Your Child to Work Day and the Social Services Bazaar.
TMH Animal Therapy teams conduct visits as requested for person specific events in the criminal and dependency courts. From August 2007 - August 2015, for the criminal courts, 13 teams have conducted 110 visits for 60 cases involving 76 individuals (70 children, ranging in ages 4 - 17; and six adults). All cases involved victims of sexual battery, domestic violence, home invasion or murder. To date for the dependency courts, three teams have conducted ten visits involving two cases for two teenage girls.
Teams also conduct visits during mass dependency court dockets in Gadsden, Leon and Wakulla Counties. From December 2009 - August 2015, it is estimated that 39 volunteer teams have made 266 visits for mass dependency dockets serving countess children during each visit.