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Newfs In Court


by Karen Bailey and Nan Martin
reprinted from NewfTide 1Q 2009

Newfoundland Therapy Dog

Willie with some friends at the Alliance for Children Center in Fort Worth.

If you were to ask a Fort Worth, Texas, judge if he thought a dog would ever be allowed in his courtroom, he probably would answer—NEVER. But that was before Willie and Isabelle began making history in Tarrant County. Willie (Top Shelf ’s Whiskey River, WRDX, CGC, Therapy Dogs, Inc.) and Isabelle (VN Ch. Sugarland’s She’s the One, DD, WRDX, CD, Therapy Dogs, Inc.) are therapy dog volunteers at Alliance For Children (AFC), a counseling center for abused children in the Fort Worth area. Since 1992, the center has served more than 29,000 children reported as victims of child sexual and physical abuse. Willie and Isabelle are nationally registered with Therapy Dogs, Incorporated, not to be confused with Therapy Dogs International. Locally, Willie is a member of PAWS To Go of Fellowship Church, a Dallas/Fort Worth area group, and Animal Assisted Therapy at Baylor Hospital System; Isabelle is a member of Heart of Texas Therapy Dogs.

Nan Martin and Cara Perry, Isabelle’s handlers and owners, and Karen Bailey, Willie’s handler and owner, visit two of the AFC centers once a month so that Isabelle and Willie can share their unconditional love with children who desperately need it.

The Alliance For Children Positive Paws Program began in April 2007 and became an instant success with children, as well as the AFC staff, attending the counseling program. Each group counseling session focuses on a relevant topic for the children, and the handlers integrate the dogs’ experiences into that topic. For example, on the topic of “fear,” the kids heard about Willie’s fear of jumping off the boat and how, with Karen’s support and love, he overcame his fear. When the topic was “achieving goals,” Nan explained to the groups how Isabelle worked hard training for her titles and didn’t always succeed the first time but perseverance eventually paid off. After the dogs leave the groups, the counselors help the children express their feelings about the topics. Having the dogs as “role models” seems to help participants open up and share about themselves.

As word began to spread about the new therapy dogs at Alliance For Children, Willie and Isabelle’s schedules quickly began filling. In October 2007, they were invited by the district attorney to attend the Kids in Court (KIC) program at the Tarrant County Courthouse. It was the first time dogs had ever been allowed in the courtroom. Kids In Court is a program to help children with upcoming trials become acquainted with the courtroom and judicial process. The program is held in the evening and allows children to see inside the courtroom and sit in the jurors’ box and the judge’s chair. The children also take a seat in the witness stand and practice speaking into the microphone. Walking to the witness stand can be a frightening experience for a small child so Willie and Isabelle were proud to be their escorts on this walk, making them feel more secure. Some children chose to have the huge Newfs sit beside them while they spoke into the microphone and received comfort as they absently reached out to touch the soft fur of their companions.

 

Newfoundland Therapy Dog

Willie is a popular figure when he attends a Texas Rangers baseball game.

Newfoundland Therapy Dog

Cara Perry with Isabelle and Karen Bailey with Willie the Tarrant County court room in Fort Worth, Texas

Overall having the dogs at Kids In Court was a huge success where Willie and Isabelle’s presence clearly provided a more comfortable atmosphere and helped the children feel safe and find courage in a situation that no child should ever have to encounter. Since their first appearance at KIC, the dogs have attended the program each time it has been held.

After the success in KIC the dogs were invited to attend an exciting event for Alliance for Children, the annual golf tournament and fund raiser held at Mira Vista Golf Course in Fort Worth. There were many local celebrities, but Willie and Isabelle seemed to be the biggest hit, and many of the participants wanted their picture taken with the pair. The next public appearance for Willie and Isabelle was at the Texas Rangers Fan Fest in January 2008 where they volunteered in the Alliance For Children booth. It seemed more people had their pictures taken with the dogs than with the Ranger players. AFC printed Willie and Isabelle baseball trading cards, which were a roaring success, and children could be heard throughout the stadium yelling out, “Willie, Isabelle!”

In June, Willie and Isabelle will be attending the National Conference for the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, DC. They will participate in a Therapy Dog presentation given by Diana Davis, clinical director of Alliance For Children and also founder of the Positive Paws Program.

 

Willie and Isabelle have obviously been having a lot of fun but most important is the fact that these two gentle giants are making history and changing the world one child at a time.

Newfoundland Therapy Dog

Cara Perry with Isabelle and Karen Bailey with Willie at the Alliance for Children booth at the Texas Rangers Fan Fest

Newfoundland Therapy Dog

Willie enjoys hugs as part of the unconditional love he gives to children.

 

 

 

reprinted from 1Q NewfTide 2009 pp 11- 21

 

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