Pawsibilities is a Pinellas County courthouse program that uses therapy dogs to comfort children who must face their abusers on the witness stand. The children, sometimes as young as six years old, are victims of rape, witnesses to murders, or have suffered abuse by a friend or relative. For a child who has been through severe trauma, connecting with adults can sometimes be difficult.
Coleen Chaney, a victim advocate and co-founder of Pawsibilities said, “Handing the leash over, empowers the child.” There is a lot of waiting in and around the courthouse. “A child is more open to waiting when they have a dog. They transition from victim mode to caregiver mode. And, they become more open to talking.”
Tyrnan, a Great Pyrenees, was a therapy dog with the Pawsibilities program. “Anyone who has looked into the calm, all-knowing eyes of a Pyr knows immediately the values these dogs have as therapy animals,” said Lori Fricker, former president of the Florida Great Pyrenees Club and Tyrnan’s human handler. Intelligent, Pyrs have a sixth sense about them, and an instinct to gently protect, especially children.
Currently, the dogs are not allowed to go into the courtroom. But, in the wings of the courthouse, Tyrnan would snuggle next to a child, willingly accepting hugs or the stroking of his fur. Sometimes, the child would fall asleep, wrapped in the comfort of Tyrnan’s giant gentleness of protection.
After one particularly trying court day, Lori and Tyrnan were leaving the courthouse with Belinda Darcy, a victim advocate and also a co-founder of Pawsibilities. “We were in the elevator when the doors opened, and two men in suits entered. Tyrnan stood up, and moved in close to them. Talking to one another, the men were oblivious to the dog. I began to gently correct Tyrnan when Belinda motioned for me not to,” said Lori. Before the men exited the elevator, Tyrnan had “slimed” them – puffing up and blowing his coat, leaving fur all over mens’ suits. After the elevator doors closed, Belinda looked at Lori and told her that the men were the defense attorneys. “Tyrnan had never even met them. He had heard them, though, questioning the victim – a child – on the witness stand through the court room doors. Once that child had left the room we were in and entered the courtroom, Tyrnan never took his eyes off the thick doors. How he knew, could hear or sense what was going on is still just amazing to me,” said Lori.
In May 2014, Tyrnan was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. He died on Memorial Day. “Tyrnan was the best therapy dog I have ever had,” said Lori.