After years of advocating for victim support in the courtroom, a Palestinian woman was instrumental in passing a bill by the Texas legislature that allows therapy animals in the courtroom audience.
Sharon Davis, a certified pet partner of therapy dog Sophie, pitched an idea to Representative Cody Harris (R-Palestine) that would allow therapy animals to go to court.
“I saw the need for victims to have the support of trained therapy dogs when they came to testify, ”said Davis. “Pet Partners, the organization we are registered with, helped draft the bill and ask its members to show their support for the legislation.
Davis is excited about what this bill means.
“Many victims will benefit from this bill, ”she said.
Sophie and Davis played a vital role in Anderson County for many years bbring comfort to children through court appointmented Special advocacy program, in which Davis also volunteers. In their service role, Davis and Sophie assist the victim‘s advocate with the prosecutor’s office by comforting children before and after testifying, during interviews and during a trial. Sophie and Davis were the first team of pets to be used in a trial and to accompany a child to the witness box in Anderson County.
Davis said she decided to call Harris after the Florida governor passed a similar bill.
Harris co-written and co-sponsored House Bill 1071, enacted by Governor Greg Abbott, to allow qualified therapy animals to be present with a witness testifying in court.
“My main reason for wanting to bring the bill was that children have to testify in front of their abuser in court, ”Harris said. “In these situations having a dog trained there to provide comfort and a sense of security can make all the difference for these children. “
Davis has been a Pet Partner since his retirement from the 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 had taken various obedience training before enrolling and serving as a pet therapy team. Since joining Pet Partners, Davis said she has had a very rewarding experience serving the community and is in high demand. She credits Sophie for all their success.
“I’m just holding the leash, Sophie does all the work, ”she said.
Davis also gives credit to District Attorney Allyson Mitchell.
“Allyson has been so kind to allow us to volunteer and work with victims, ”said Davis.
“I am grateful that, thanks to the idea of Sharon Davis and the perseverance of Representative Cody Harris, civil and criminal cases now have the opportunity of use a dog to help comfort witnesses during legal proceedings ”, Mitchell said. “Sophie is an integral member of our prosecution team and we are grateful for the comfort she brings to the witnesses and to ourselves.
Pet Partners is the leading national organization registering therapy animals.
With over 10,000 registered teams making over 3 million visits per year, Pet Partners is the most diverse and respected nonprofit in the country as volunteer teams to register multiple species.
Pet Partners teams visit recovering patients, people with intellectual disabilities, seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease, students, veterans with PTSD, people who have lived through crisis events and to those nearing the end of life, with the goal of improving human health and well-being. to be through the human-animal bond.
Pet Partners also advocates for legislation that promotes human health and wellness through its grassroots advocacy program and educates handlers and the public about the positive impact of animal-assisted interventions.