Tampa's courthouse pup helps ease children's fears

- Judge Katherine Essrig's courtroom is different from the rest in the Hillsborough County Courthouse. It's designed to bring comfort to the county's youngest victims. 

"Some of these children have had horrific things that they've witnessed or experienced. Of course, they're reliving some of that when they're coming to court," Judge Essrig said.

But the courtroom teddy bears and books pale in comparison to the companionship offered by the courthouse's four-legged employee, Tibet. The 4-year old Labrador Retriever is a pure-bred, highly-trained professional facility dog. She's the first of her kind in Florida.

"She can open and close doors, she can turn on and off light switches," Tibet's handler, Brenda Kocher said.

She can even turn the pages of storybooks. Sometimes, her most powerful command is just being there. Last month, Tibet made state legal history by assisting a child testifying in a criminal trial.

"The child testified for 45 minutes on the stand. Her presence was unknown to the jury. There were convictions on all counts," Kocher said.

While she's all business when behind the stand, Tibet does have a lighter side.

"Pull a tennis ball out and it's all over!" Kocher laughed.

It's that lightness and love that allows her to help 500 children a year through their darkest hours.

"The look on every child's face when they cuddle up with Tibet or pet Tibet says it all. She just makes life a little better," Judge Essrig smiled.

Tibet's success story inspired the Orange County court system to also push to get a facility dog. Legislation is now being drafted to fight to allow facility dogs in courthouses across Florida. 

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