Since 2013, more than 60 children have used a unique calming tool put in place by the Tulsa County District Attorney’s office. Therapy dogs are brought in to help children cope with courtroom trauma and the program is stronger than ever.
The dogs, ‘Boo,’ ‘Nala,’ ‘Chance,’ ‘Missy,’ ‘Morgan’ and ‘Zack,’ help young crime victims calm their anxiety they may experience in court.
“It is a flat-out miracle of God to see the difference between children who have a therapy dog and children who don’t have a therapy dog,” said Steve Kunzweiler, Tulsa County District Attorney.
Oftentimes, when the defendant knows that the dog has calmed the child enough to tell their story, the defendant will plea and the child is spared from having to testify,” according to the Tulsa County DA’s office.
“That child is seeing someone sitting there with strength and that dog is empowering that child to speak the truth,” Kunzweiler said.
The dogs often sit next to the children in the stand during their testimony but ‘Boo,’ the smallest court dog, wasn’t tall enough for the children to reach. So his owner made him a stand to make it easier for the children to reach him.
“They can be afraid of a defendant in the courtroom; the dogs act as protectors, not that that ever happened but it makes that child feel safer,” said Sally Van Schenck, Victim Advocate with the DA’s office.
One important thing to remember about the dogs is that they and their handlers all do this voluntarily.
“What better way to help people than with your best buddy?” said handler Allen Pease. “We’re having a good time.”
The DA hopes to expand the program to help not just children – but also adults in need of some extra support in the courtroom.