ROGERS COUNTY, Okla. -- A courtroom can seem like a scary place when children are asked to come and testify, so one courthouse is trying to make that process easier on kids by offering therapy dogs for comfort and support.
Mindie Baab, a district court reporter serving Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties, got her dog Jerzy registered as a therapy dog more than a year ago. The Australian Shepherd-standard poodle mix can now sit in the courtroom with children when they testify, or she can meet with them ahead of any hearings.
"These dogs are trained to know when a child becomes agitated, upset, increased blood pressure," Baab said, "and they are trained to lean into or let them know I'm here."
Baab said, after spending 25 years as a court reporter, she always dreamed of having a dog to serve in this way.
"It's scary when you come to this big courthouse, and there's a judge in a black robe. There's people sitting in the jury box staring at you, and you have to tell something that was horrific in your life," Baab said. "When you have a dog and can reach down and pet it, or the dog leans into you or puts its paw on your leg, it makes a difference."
Jerzy is now not the only therapy dog at the Rogers County courthouse. Michelle Lowry, who works as the district attorney's community outreach and victim services coordinator, adopted a dog named Bear to serve in the same role.
"I really wanted to get a rescue puppy," Lowry said. "I wanted to give somebody a second chance because I knew he would be working with victims, and I knew that would be a great fit."
Lowry said Bear became registered as an official therapy dog about a month ago. He'll now be able to comfort more children in vulnerable, stressful situations.
"The dog just somehow knows the exact, right approach whereas people, sometimes it's hard," Lowry said. "We all want to help, but the dogs just naturally do it and people respond."
District Attorney Matt Ballard said he and the other prosecutors recently saw the effect that the therapy dogs are having.
"Bear's handler was dealing with a girl who was particularly distracted. She was picking at her hands, and we introduced her to Bear," Ballard said. "He immediately took a liking to her (and) her to him. They ended up falling asleep together on the floor in our victim witness room waiting for court to start.
"It was just a great experience," he added, "that somebody who started out so nervous, so overwhelmed, and ended up feeling at ease. It made the experience much better."
Ballard said he hopes to have more therapy dogs available throughout his district, so Bear and Jerzy's handlers are now trying to recruit more people to join their voluntary effort.
"Even as an experienced prosecutor, anytime you go into court, you get nervous," Ballard said. "Imagine a 12-year-old or younger child going into court with what they're experiencing, the emotions they're experiencing. Having a dog that they've developed a relationship that can go there with them, it makes the experience much better."