Manatee court swears-in first courtroom support dogs

- An unusual but welcome sight inside a Manatee County courtroom: dogs and their handlers were sworn in as part of a new courtroom pet therapy program.

You would think dogs in a courtroom would be a distraction, but that's not the case.

Judge Teri Kaklis Dees swore in seven dogs and their handlers as the inaugural class of Manatee County's Dependency Court Pet Therapy Program.

 “Do you promise never-ending affection and support for those experiencing in our courtroom and our waiting areas?”

“We will!”

These dogs will provide comfort to everyone inside the courtroom, including the judge.

 “This is a tough courtroom. It can be chaotic. It can be very difficult to work in. It can be emotionally charged. There are more things going on in here in any given time than you can imagine,” explained Kaklis Dee. “When the dogs come in, it takes a different tone,”

The dependency court sees cases involving children who may be dealing with tumultuous situations like abuse, neglect or abandonment.

“I watch people come in and they look down, they see the dog, they'll stop, they'll pet, they'll smile, they'll say thank you, and they come in to do their business here,” said pet therapist, Nan Miller. “Children, in particular, will come in and they'll just sit right down with the dog.”

In other cases, children have been accused of committing a crime, and these dogs are there to help them, too.

“They have a calming effect, they bring the chaos down,” said Kaklis Dees. “This is a courtroom with a lot of trauma. I think a lot of people that come into this courtroom are scared to death to be in here. They could be losing their children; their children could be going off to the Department of Juvenile Justice.”

Children will be able to pet and sit with these dogs during those tough times. But, everyone inside the courtroom should benefit from their presence.

“The value has really been discovered,” said Miller.

To apply for the pet therapy program, visit http://www.jud12.flcourts.org/Portals/0/PDF/pets/Application%20for%20Pet%20Therapy%20Program.pdf.

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