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When a child is required to go to court, that’s scary enough, but to go to court and testify against the abuser; well you can only imagine. The therapy dogs and their handlers, the lifeblood of our Beesley's Paw Prints Pet Therapy program here at the Children’s Advocacy Center, are able to help with the stress in our own special way.
Fansee, an English Cream Golden Retriever therapy dog owned by Kim Corby, waits patiently outside the courtroom doors, secure in the knowledge that the child she needs to help is testifying just on the other side. When the child emerges, Fansee’s tail wags with glee as she is simultaneously enveloped by the arms of a child in need.
Our courtroom dog program, which began in 2016, took a big step this year with the help of judges and state attorneys. CAC’s volunteer therapy dogs are now allowed to be outside of the courtroom with children who are waiting to testify in the criminal side of their case. Our volunteer pet teams are in the Family Court area as well.
Each of our ten court dog teams has a red vest emblazoned with a patch of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, which makes it clear to everyone that this is indeed a very special dog. Once the team passes through security, they take a short elevator ride to the third floor and the Family Court waiting area. Here you may find one of the dogs sprawled on the floor with a young one brushing the dog’s hair, or one of the attorneys with a big smile on his face while he pets the four-legged ambassador. Often, the judges themselves may take a break just to spend some time with these incredibly special dogs.
When the State’s Attorney has a child that will be testifying against an abuser, their office will contact Lisa Talcott, CAC’s Pet Therapy Coordinator, to schedule a team to be at court to comfort that child before and after testifying. The calming affect that the dog has on the child is immediately evident; their breathing slows and a calmness envelopes both the dog and the child.
Our hope is that one day the therapy dogs will be allowed in the courtroom with their child so they may be an unseen comfort as they testify. For now, these amazing dogs will be spreading their love, one child at a time in the waiting area outside the Family Courtroom!
CAC’s Beesley’s Paw Prints Pet Therapy program at work. Lobby greeter volunteer Karen with the “puppy of the day” Gordo, and therapy team volunteer Amy with her dog Boomer, who just finished a session with one of our clients.
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Sadly, two of our amazing therapy dogs have also passed away. Cole, a beautiful black German Shephard, passed away in May. He and his mom, Lori Shores, spent five years volunteering with Beesley’s Paw Prints Therapy Program here at CAC. Not only did Cole help countless children in individual therapy sessions, he was a favorite of the judges, assistants, attorneys and the public at the 20th Judicial Circuit Courthouse in Fort Myers, as well as with everyone here at CAC. Cole’s happy smile and ability to connect with everyone will be greatly missed. Our condolences go to his owners, Lori and Frank Shores.
In May we also lost Benny, a beautiful black and white Sheltie, owned by Gail Anulewicz. Even though Benny and Gail were volunteers through Beesley’s Paw Prints Therapy Program for only about a year, little Benny wigled his way into the hearts of therapists, staff and clients at CAC.
A client wrote about her son, “…. Those animals totally helped save my son from himself. Gail should be very proud of what she and Benny have done for him. She and Benny are both earth angels!” We here at CAC completely agree. Our condolences go to his owners, Gail and Robert Anulewicz.