By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6
TULSA, OKLAHOMA -- The Tulsa County District attorney's office is doing something that's never been done in Oklahoma. They're offering courtroom comfort to traumatized victims with therapy dogs.
Boo is a four-year-old Bichon who is becoming quite familiar with Tulsa's courtrooms. He was rescued as a puppy by Leon Mullis, then trained as a therapy dog and is now helping children testify in court.
Three little girls, ages eight and nine, all cousins, had to testify recently against a child molester and Boo sat right on their laps in the witness chair.
"In the case I had, they were petting Boo, he just sat there. They'd stroke his hair and at the difficult part of the testimony, they'd look at Boo, then start talking about that sensitive stuff," said Steve Kunzweiler, Assistant District Attorney.
The News On 6 put a tiny camera on Boo's collar to see what he sees as he walks through the courthouse halls; it's mostly a lot of shoes. He's a big hit with people of all ages.
Fourteen others states use therapy dogs to help traumatized victims testify, but, it's never been done in Oklahoma until now. The idea is to make witnesses more comfortable and less stressed. Boo seems to have a knack for doing that.
"The ability for a dog to know what a child needs, to bring them comfort, it's remarkable, it really is," Leon Mullis, Boo's owner, said.
The judge and defense attorney in the recent case both agreed to let Boo sit with the victims. Since it was such a success, prosecutors expect Boo and other therapy dogs will continue to comfort witnesses, even at jury trials.
"It's a security measure," Kunzweiler said. "Boo isn't going to testify, he's just making it safer in the courtroom."
Because there's no age limit when it comes to traumatized victims, the therapy dogs can also be used to give a little K9 comfort to grown up witnesses as well.
But, it was clear from the time The News On 6 was with Boo that, while everyone likes him and he's friendly to all, he has a special affection for the folks who are more his size.
They have a larger dog named Bear who will be in court with a child on Monday.
Tim Harris' office plans to share this idea with other District Attorneys in the state to see if the program could be started in other counties as well.