Section 92.55(4) of the Florida Statutes enables the Court to establish conditions it finds just and appropriate when taking the testimony of a child, including the use of a Therapy Animal or facility dog that has been evaluated and registered according to national standards…

Based in Central Florida, Companions for Courage is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization consisting of volunteer teams comprising of a handler and a special Therapy Animal that are there to “help kids conquer their fears in the Courtroom…one paw at a time”. The volunteers and their animals help to give courage to child victims of abuse by escorting them into the courtroom where the Companion sits with the child in the witness box. If the child becomes nervous or uncomfortable, they can pat their Companion or rub them with their feet.

Sometimes it’s hard to speak to a room full of strangers, so they can look at their Companion, as long as the people in the courtroom can hear them speak. Companions for Courage animals have been evaluated and been labeled as being “bomb proof”, meaning they do not react to loud noises, sudden movement, or other distractions. Their focus is to be a Companion, or best friend for their child, and nothing else.

Our teams are also available to sit in during depositions with the child. This is another place where the Companions help these children to relax. Our handlers sign a confidentiality agreement to ensure all statements remain confidential.

The Companions for Courage animals are there for virtually any child in need – whether it be in a hospital room, a counseling center, or even a shelter, our teams are ready to visit. We even make special visits to schools and children’s events.

Companions for Courage is an all-volunteer organization, and as such, all of our services are provided free of charge.  Our handlers and animals are covered by a $5,000,000 Liability Insurance policy through Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

Companions for Courage is proud to be the approved Therapy Animal Provider for the Fifth Judicial Circuit, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Courts, and Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Courts of Florida.

We’d like to give special thanks to our friends, supporters, and partners:

Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida (K9th Circuit Program)

The K9th Circuit Program was established under the direction of Judge Thomas Turner (Retired). Judge Turner saw the need for children to feel a sense of security while undergoing forensic interviews or testifying in court.  The dogs may also be used for adult victims of violent offenses, those who are mentally or emotionally challenged, or whenever the court needs to take a more therapeutic approach.   The Ninth Circuit is the first Florida circuit to utilize both pet therapy dog teams and a professionally trained, ADA certified dog and its handler. All pet therapy dogs and their owners must be TDI certified members of Companions for Courage, currently the only provider approved to work in the Ninth Circuit.        

Fifth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida Partners with Companions for Courage

The Therapy Dog program was established under the direction of the Chief Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit. The Chief Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit has permitted the use of therapy dogs to assist victim witnesses associated with sexual assault and other traumatic proceedings including family court or dependency and Termination of Parental Rights proceedings.      

The Chief Judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit has determined that the use of therapy animals or facility dogs may be appropriate to assist a person with an intellectual disability or a victim or witness in proceedings involving a sexual offense or child abuse, abandonment or neglect.        

We gratefully thank the Mount Dora Community Trust for generously helping to fund the publication of our Companion Photo Album. When children testify with the “Companion” they themselves have chosen from the album, they will feel empowered…not alone and helpless throughout their judicial journey. The generosity of the Mount Dora Community Trust has made it possible for the vast distribution of these books to Lake County School counselors, Mount Dora Christian Academy counselors, Lake County Courthouse prosecutors and child advocates…all who are first to reach a child victim. 

Laura Brimmer served the Ninth Judicial Circuit court for over three decades, and most of her career focused on developing and improving court processes – primarily in the Juvenile and Family Courts Division where she served as the Court Operations Manager for over twelve years.  Laura received various commendations from the Chief Judges of the Ninth Circuit for her dedication to help solve problems and her stellar customer service including the nickname of “Ms. Fix-it.” As a founding member of the 1997 Teen Court Advisory Board, she was instrumental in the development of Orange County Teen Court which continues to be one of the top Teen Courts in the Nation.  In 2008 Laura was appointed Staff Director for the Orange County Juvenile Commission. In 2014, Laura developed and implemented the K9th Circuit Court Program, to aid children in the dependency courts as well as adult victims of violent crimes.  After being convinced that Companions for Courage met her own high standards as well as those required by the Courts, she convinced us to expand our services to the Ninth Circuit.  Laura now serves as voluntary court advisor to our organization and she delights in promoting the use of court therapy dog teams throughout the State of Florida and beyond.

Dr. Tracie Wilson is a founding member and sits on the Board of Directors of Companions for Courage. Her career in veterinary medicine began in 1989 when she began classes for veterinary technicians at St. Petersburg Junior College. Dr. Wilson graduated with an A.S. in Veterinary Technology in 1991 and began working in the small animal field. As the profession grew and evolved, she found herself teaching for a while at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine, working in the anesthetic department teaching junior veterinary students the art of anesthesia. Upon arriving back in Florida, Dr. Wilson attended the University of Central Florida in Orlando while working at the Daytona Beach Animal Emergency Clinic. She studied pre-vet classes locally then moved to Tennessee to accept a job at the veterinary college in Knoxville while she finished her undergrad studies. Dr. Wilson taught and worked in the Intensive Care Ward while taking classes over on the main campus. After completing the course work she attended the veterinary college at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Wilson graduated from the University of Tennessee, College of Veterinary Medicine in 2004 and took a job in central Kentucky. She worked as an associate veterinarian in Danville Kentucky for six years before finding her way back to Florida. Here in Florida, Dr. Wilson worked as an associate vet for a year while she geared up to open her own office. She chose the Eustis area because the community and the people were very welcoming and supportive of a new enterprise. Her practice, the Animal Medical Center of Eustis, is a full service small animal hospital – where she specializes in TLC! Current Associations: CFC—Companions for Courage AVMA – American Veterinary Medical Association FVMA – Florida Veterinary Medical Association VECCS – Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society HSVMA – Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association Lake Eustis Area Chamber of Commerce    

Christy Borgstedte of CLB Photography has been the photographer for Companions for Courage since our very beginning.  She has had a lifelong passion for photography, and while she’s done all types of work, from weddings to family portraits, pet photography is her love.  And it shows in her work!

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