Tulsa Courtroom Dogs Have Friends And Foes

Monday, October 11th 2010, 6:58 pm
By: News On 6

By Tara Vreeland, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Tulsa courtrooms are helping trauma victims on the stand with some creature comfort.

Courtroom canines are used around the country and Tulsa County has adopted the idea that it helps ease the anxiety of witnesses.

10/8/2010 Related Story: Tulsa D.A. Therapy Dog Offering Courtroom Comfort To Victims

That's the first thing that comes to mind when you see Bear. He's a 5 ½-year-old Great Pyrenees and Sheppard mix.

"Oh he had the biggest job he's ever had today," said Catherine Peters, Bear's handler. "First time in court as a court dog with some wonderful little witnesses. He did good. He did good. He did really good."

Three young girls testified against their alleged abuser. Bear sat quietly with his handler Peters. When the girls were asked questions that made them uncomfortable "Our presence was all that was needed to calm them to go through that. To testify," Peters said.

Bear was there and the girls automatically would reach down to stroke his fur. During several difficult moments, one girl would look down at Bear and whispered "good boy" and smile before continuing.

"How much it means to the girls. That was bad what they had to talk about... and to be able to reach out to something that gives unconditional love and acceptance," Peters said.

But courtroom canines aren't without critics. Defense attorney's often oppose the dogs in the courtroom.

One lawyer, who declined to go on camera, said the dog's engender sympathy, prejudice a jury and raise fears of bias.

He said it's like watching Lassie in the courtroom, and if you want to pet a dog, go outside.

District Attorney Tim Harris says the dog is not supposed to be a distraction.

"Hopefully the dog can be inconspicuous to everybody. This isn't a love fest over this dog. We're there to do a duty and that is to obtain the truth," Harris said

But on this day, the burden the girls had to bear was eased by a Bear sized dog, with the Bear sized heart.

"That's what he's about. You know. For the girls ...oh man you don't have any idea how proud I am. This dog is a serious blessing. Not only for me but for anybody else that we can be of service to," Peters said.

Four dogs are trained to be therapy dogs in the courtroom.

Bear, Boo the Bichon we introduced to you Friday. There is also a labradoodle and a Saint Bernard.