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Therapy Dogs Help Kids With Trauma Feel Calm Enough To Tell Their Stories

The dogs of the K9th Circuit Program are the ultimate therapy dogs for kids in courtrooms. In 2014, Orlando, Florida created a community outreach program called Companions for Courage where dogs provide a sense of security to children testifying in court.


"Think about how a child must feel. They have to face the person who has hurt them, they have to sit in front of a bunch of strangers and tell a really painful story, and most of the time they're not even with their family while they're testifying," said Joanne Rittenhouse, one of the dog handlers. "All the dogs make everyone calm; they have a good presence," she continued.

Studies have shown that people are better able to recollect facts and provide more accurate information regarding traumatic events when they are calm. With the assistance of the dog teams, children and adults are able to relieve their anxiety about the underlying traumatic events and provide more precise testimonies in court proceedings.

One very special therapy dog named Karl is one of 6 dogs in the K9 Circuit Program. He was born deaf, knows sign language, and is an amazing support to the kids.

"Karl gave her the courage to go through with the trial. I couldn't even get her out of the car when we first started and towards the end she was getting out of the car just to go and see Karl," added dog handler Carol Feiner.

As a part of the community outreach program, "Companions for Courage is about the victim and the dog. It's a bond, and a sense of security that the animal brings to the child – to give them the confidence and courage to face that scary place."

"Children feel protected to have this dog by their side" said Joanne. Since the program started, the Companions for Courage have been involved in 23 cases. Companions for Courage is the approved Therapy Dog Provider for the 5th Judicial Circuit and Ninth Judicial Circuit Courts of Florida.

This story was produced by Tracy Chevrier, shot/edited by James Haydon.

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