The need for trauma sensitive courts is being recognized in courts throughout the nation. This need is clearly evident when children become involved in the court system as victims of abuse. To address this need, the Ninth Judicial Circuit established the K9th Circuit Program. The program, developed by Judge Turner, utilizes dogs to provide comfort and a sense of security to children who must undergo forensic interviews or testify in court. The dogs may also be used for adult victims of violent offenses, those who are mentally or emotionally challenged, or whenever the court needs to take a more therapeutic approach.
Studies show that people are better able to recollect facts and provide more accurate information regarding traumatic events when they are calm and feel safe. With the assistance of our dog teams, children and adults are able to relieve their anxiety about the underlying traumatic events so they can provide more precise testimony in court proceedings. With a clearer record, the Court is able to dispense justice more effectively and equitably.
The Ninth Circuit is the first Florida circuit to utilize both pet therapy dog teams and a professionally trained, ADA certified dog and its handler. All pet therapy dogs and their owners must be TDI certified members of Companions for Courage, currently the only provider approved to work in the Ninth Circuit. The Circuit is also fortunate to have been awarded a Courthouse Facility Dog who regularly works with children at the Juvenile Justice Center. This dog was bred, trained, and provided though Canine Companions for Independence, a nationally recognized provider of service dogs.
Our dogs must be well groomed, obedient, highly sociable, gentle, and affectionate, particularly with children. A team, which consists of a dog and its handler, is often assigned to appear with a child or an adult at court proceedings, including depositions, hearings, or at trial. Our dog teams are often seen in the juvenile courthouse lobby helping to calm children and families, and replacing worried expressions with smiles and laughter, as these individuals await their court cases.
Dog teams who participate in the K9th Program must adhere to rigorous standards. Our Courthouse Facility Dog team, Tonx and Cindy, must recertify annually through Canine Companions for Independence. The pet therapy teams are regularly monitored and tested for their suitability by the CFC Board of Directors. Dog handlers, considered Ninth Circuit Court volunteers, must possess a minimum of two years active experience as dog handlers, be at least 21 years of age, and pass periodic criminal background checks.
To request a Companions for Courage Pet Therapy team, please email Joanne Rittenhouse at Rittenhouse55@comcast.net. If you would like additional information about this program, please call 407.836.DOG9 (3649) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.