New Law Allows Children To Use Therapy Dogs In Oklahoma Courts
TULSA, Oklahoma - A new law signed by Governor Fallin will bring changes to courtrooms across Oklahoma. If requested, judges must allow registered therapy dogs in the courts to comfort abused children as they struggle with taking the stand.
Beginning in 2010, the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office began having therapy dogs sit alongside children in court to help calm them down.
But with the governor's signature, this could be a practice many people will be seeing more often.
Courtroom dogs Boo, Missy, Morgan and Nala, all have distinct and different personalities. But one thing they share is the ability to serve a priceless role during difficult court cases. They all serve as comfort for abused children while they testify.
Supporter Leon Mullis, said, "I've seen a little girl put her hand under Boo's vest, and I didn't think he'd have any hair left by the time she got off the stand. And he just lays there like this."
Tulsa County Prosecutor, Steve Kunzweiler said, "Their memories of what happened in court is of the dog."
Kunzweiler started the program in 2010, and with the governor's signature this week, it will now be law that Oklahoma judges have to let certified therapy dogs into courts if requested.
"Now I know that how we're going to be dealing with traumatized children is going to be forever changed in our courtrooms," Kunzweiler said.
And the lives of those children forever changed as well. Supporter Mike Monroe remembers one girl in particular.
"Morgan goes over and places her head in the girl's lap and the little girl starts to pet her, and twirl her hair as kids will do when they're nervous," Monroe recalled.
Moments later, he said, the girl provided the information investigators needed and the case came to a swift close.
"She just loves to come in and give that comfort," he said.
There's no particular size limit on dogs in court, and with Nala, there's a whole lot of love to go around.
"She is just the most laid back dog ever," said supporter Debra Cox. "She's so affectionate."
And to see the children respond so well to the pups, Kunzweiler said it's one of the best feelings any prosecutor can have.
As far as any expenses the program brings with it, the dogs and their handlers are strictly on a volunteer basis.