Tampa, Fla. (Tuesday, October 18, 2016) – The 13th Judicial Circuit Court’s facility dog, Tibet, walked down the red carpet with her handler Brenda Kocher for the premiere of her new dogumentary (documentary) film at the Tampa Theatre.
The “Dogumentary” tells the story of how former Voices for Children of Tampa Bay Director Betsy Smith and Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteer and handler Brenda Kocher were able to bring the Courthouse Facility Dog Program and the film’s star, Tibet, to the Hillsborough County 13th Judicial Circuit. With the success of the program, which began in 2014, they hope to expand and bring more facility dogs to courthouses around the state of Florida.
“Many of the films interview subjects are here in attendance,” said Ronna Kennedy, Executive Director of Voices for Children of Tampa Bay as the lobby of the historic theatre buzzed with excitement and conversations before the premiere. “Judges, attorneys and volunteers were among the many interviewed to bring this piece together and it is an honor to work with such passionate people who are making a difference in the lives of our children in need.”
Tibet is the first courthouse facility dog staffed in the state of Florida, yet there are over 30,000 children in the state of Florida’s dependency court system, with the majority having to testify without any support.
Judge Katherine G. Essrig from Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit said, “Tibet really is a miracle worker! When I have a case involving a child who has been the victim of a traumatic event and he or she walks into the courtroom – often that child is carrying Tibet’s’ leash.”
Essrig has served on the bench for 26 years and was one of the earliest supporters for bringing the program to the 13th Judicial Circuit Court. She spoke before the premiere of the film talking about her experience with testifying in court as a legal professional, and seeing children struggling to testify.
Brenda Kocher, Tibet’s Handler said, “I believe that VFC and GAL have set the bar in the state of Florida for other non-profits and other programs to provide this invaluable service to children.”
Both Kennedy and Kocher also spoke about their hopes to expand the program across the state of Florida after the film screening with Tibet by their side.
Tibet and Kocher volunteer full-time every week, yet with over 1,300 children in Hillsborough County who have to face the dependency court system, there is still much work left to do.
To help fund some of the cost, supporters are able to purchase a stuffed Tibet doll. When one is purchased, a matching Tibet doll is given to a child in the dependency court.
To learn more about how you can support the Voices for Children’s Courthouse Dog Program in Hillsborough county visit vfcgal.org/tibet or contact the Voices for Children office at (813) 275-9300.