Second Judicial Circuit Celebrates Animal Therapy in the Courts Program by Setting a New World Record!
On March 31, 2023 the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida celebrated 16 years of its highly successful Animal Therapy in the Courts Program with a swearing-in ceremony for its newest courthouse therapy dogs and their handlers. The event saw a world record number of 18 courthouse therapy dogs sworn in at one time by Chief Judges Jimmy Hankinson and Jonathan Sjostrom. The program set the previous record of 13 courthouse therapy dogs sworn in during March of 2015.
When the program began in 2007, it was Florida’s first court-sponsored animal therapy program, and one of the first anywhere in the world. Now, with 39 active teams currently active, it is one of the oldest and largest Courthouse Therapy Dog Programs in the world.
The Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare Animal Therapy Program provides therapy dog teams at no cost to the Second Judicial Circuit. The therapy dogs were initially available to comfort and support children testifying as victims of violent crimes. They later expanded to assist children participating in dependency court proceedings and adults who need the service, as determined by the court.
The Second Judicial Circuit Courthouse Therapy Dog Program serves as a model for other jurisdictions. The Second Circuit helped lead the way for the first law in the United States allowing therapy dogs to accompany child victims and witnesses of sexual assault into the courtroom to enable them to give testimony during criminal trials. The law has since been expanded twice to include facility dogs and adult victims of violent crimes. The Second Circuit has assisted 15 of the twenty judicial circuits of the State of Florida in planning similar programs and took the lead in drafting statewide recommendations for using therapy dogs in dependency courts.
To date, 86 animal therapy teams have participated in 391 separate court events and have provided comfort and support to countless children during these criminal trials and 362 mass dependency court dockets. According to Chief Judge Sjostrom, “The celebration is a way for the courts to show our appreciation to the many trained and dedicated volunteers of the TMH Animal Therapy Program and their animal partners.”
The Second Judicial Circuit is comprised of Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla Counties.