BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — On Tuesday, the Honorable Ana Maria Garcia swore in the newest service member of the community.
A chocolate lab mix named Ziva is now part of the Courthouse Canines Program of the 14th Judicial Circuit.
This is a volunteer program designed to connect highly trained volunteer handler/ dog teams with children and victims of sexual assault.
Susan Carroll is Ziva’s handler, but also a Martial and Family lawyer.
“I wanted this dog to do this and six years ago when she was born I said we’re going to do this one day,” Carroll said.
The team is part of a non-profit called Pet Partners.
Carroll said, “We’ll go into nursing homes, into schools, into courtrooms, into places there is a need to relieve stress.”
The team will serve hand in hand with the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC).
“The majority of children when they are abused, they’re abused by someone they know, love and trust and that’s hard for them to be able to talk about that because it’s fearful, it’s shameful but even just one little thing like a dog, we know not only from experiences we’ve seen but through the science that it definitely helps,” said Gulf Coast CAC Executive Director, Lori Allen.
Ziva will be available to kids who are set to testify in a trial and before a forensic interview or medical exam to relieve stress.
“That’s what we want to do is bring a sense of just of safety, some security for the kids,” Carroll said.
She says she is excited to bring something positive into the courthouse.
Carroll said, “I was really happy to add something to the court system that’s not ugly or hard. This is just plain outright love and that’s what we need.”
Allen said, “It just has that love, that comfort, that sense that you’re not alone. Dogs have that amazing ability to be able to sense anxiety and worry in individuals.”
Ziva is the first therapy animal of its kind for the CAC, however, they’ve had what they call a facility animal named Voyager since last year.
The CAC is looking for more volunteers for the Pet Partners program. Learn more about the program here.
Allen describes the difference between the two dogs in the video below.
To learn more about the Gulf Coast CAC, click here.