The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

April 6, 2013

DA program involving pet therapy to help victims, chiildren testifying

Staff Reports
Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe has announced the beginning of a new program to aid victims and children who are scheduled to testify in court.

Coordinating the program will be Anderson County Victim Service Coordinator Cheryl Williams and Anderson County Casework Supervisor Lee McCain Brown of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Trinity Valley.

Victims and children who are called upon to testify will be able to spend time with a registered therapy dog before entering the courtroom and possibly after, if needed.  

The Smith County DA’s office has had a similar program in place for several years. At this time, the Anderson County program will only provide assistance outside the courtroom.

Research has shown that animals are a positive presence for children and others during times of stress or trauma. Studies show that the mere presence of a friendly animal can result in decreased anxiety, reduced blood pressure, and help create a sense of well-being.

As a result, many in the justice system have been convinced of the benefit of using this service as a “comfort” item to aid children who become involved in the court system. It is felt that calming a child can help result in more efficient and accurate testimony and less trauma for the child.

There is a difference between a service animal and a therapy animal.

A service animal is individually trained to work with an individual with a disability. A therapy animal’s primary purpose is to provide emotional support, well- being, comfort, and companionship.

There is a long history of these animals and their handlers volunteering in schools, nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and crisis centers. Many teams made national news recently as they were brought in to aid in the recovery and healing of the survivors and victims in the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown.

Local resident Sharon Davis and her 3 1/2 year old labradoodle, Sophie, is one of the pet therapy teams that will provide services for the Anderson County DA’s office.

Davis recently qualified to become a registered Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society) Therapy Animal Team. They are joining over 11,000 other animal/ human teams in all 50 states and 13 other countries who provide animal-assisted activities/therapy.

It takes a lot of work and dedication to become a registered team. To qualify, volunteers must complete special training, the animal/human team must pass a 22-part skills and aptitude test, and the animal must complete a health screening. Teams are required to pass an evaluation every two years.

Pet Partners, a non-profit organization, began its animal therapy program in 1990.  To learn more about Pet Partners and how you can become a registered team, visit their website at www.petpartners.org or contact Sharon Davis at sharonmdavis1@msn.com.