After years of advocating for victim support in the courtroom, a Palestine woman has played a major role in getting a bill passed by the Texas legislature that allows for therapy animals in the courtroom.
Sharon Davis, a certified Pet Partner for Sophie, a therapy dog, introduced an idea to Representative Cody Harris (R-Palestine) that would allow therapy animals in court.
“I saw a need for victims to have the support of qualified therapy dogs when having to testify,” Davis said. “Pet Partners, the organization we are registered with, was instrumental in helping draft the bill and asking for its members to show support for the legislation.”
Davis is excited about what this bill means.
“A lot of victims will benefit from this bill,” she said.
Sophie and Davis have played a vital role in Anderson County for many years by providing comfort to children through the Court Appointed Special Advocacy program, in which Davis also volunteers. In their service role, Davis and Sophie assist the victim's advocate in the district attorney's office by comforting children before and after testimony, during interviews and during one trial. Sophie and Davis were the first therapy-pet team to be used in trial and accompany a child in the witness box in Anderson County.
Davis said she decided to call Harris after the Florida governor passed a similar bill.
Harris co-authored and co-sponsored House Bill 1071, signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott, to allow qualified therapy animals to be present with a witness testifying in court.
“My biggest reason for wanting to carry the bill was for the children who have to testify in front of their abuser in court,” Harris said. “In those situations, having a trained dog there to provide comfort and some sense of safety, can make all the difference for those kids.”
Davis has been a Pet Partner since her retirement from Palestine Independent School District. She knew she wanted to give back to the community by owning and sharing a therapy dog. Davis said she and Sophie went through various obedience-school trainings before getting registered and serving as a therapy pet team. Since joining Pet Partners, Davis said she has had a very rewarding experience serving the community and has been in high demand. She credits Sophie with all their success.
“I just hold the leash, Sophie does all the work,” she said.
Davis also gives credit to District Attorney Allyson Mitchell.
“Allyson has been so good to allow us to volunteer and work with victims,” Davis said.
“I am grateful that, thanks to Sharon Davis' idea and the perseverance of Rep Cody Harris, both civil and criminal cases now have the option of utilizing a dog to help comfort witnesses going through the court processes,” Mitchell said. “Sophie is an integral member of our prosecution team and we are grateful for the comfort that she brings to witnesses and ourselves.”
Pet Partners is the nation’s leading organization registering therapy animals.
With more than 10,000 registered teams making more than 3 million visits annually, Pet Partners serves as the nation’s most diverse and respected non-profit registering handlers of multiple species as volunteer teams.
Pet Partners' teams visit with patients in recovery, people with intellectual disabilities, seniors living with Alzheimer’s, students, veterans with PTSD, people who have experienced crisis events, and those approaching end of life, with the goal of improving human health and well-being through the human-animal bond.
Pet Partners also advocates for legislation that promotes human health and well-being through its grassroots advocacy program and educates handlers and the public about the positive impact of animal-assisted interventions.