AUSTIN (KXAN) — A child testifying against their attacker in a courtroom can be a traumatic experience. The Center for Child Protection and the Travis County District Attorney have found a new way to help those children.
Introducing Mikler! A three-year-old yellow lab, golden retriever mix and a full-fledged staff member of the Center for Child Protection. He has a caseload of 3 or 4 therapy sessions a week with abused kids to help them build safe and trusting relationships in life after a traumatic event.
Mickler is also the facility dog at the Travis County District Attorneys’ office. He is a specially trained therapy dog that comforts children in the courtroom when they come face to face with their accused abuser at trial.
“The courtroom is pretty intimating for a lot of people, so imagine you are seven or eight-years-old talking about a very adult subject. You need something or someone to guide you through the process,” said assistant district attorney Joe Frederick. That something or someone is Mickler. “Mickler is perfect. Kids like dogs, dogs like kids so when you have one that can work in a therapeutic environment, it takes a very difficult subject and brings it down to the child’s level in such a way they have comfort and they are able to express what happened to them,” said Frederick.
Before the child victim steps foot in the courtroom, he or she meets with prosecutors over their case, Mickler and Miriam Janksy, the Chief Clinical Officer Center for Child Protection and Mickler’s handler. Together they determine if Mickler can comfort the child in court.
“When there are children that need him, he comes to court, when he comes in he gets on the witness stand and he sits underneath so the child can usually hold his leash, sometimes they’ll put their feet on him, sometimes they’ll rub his ears. Sometimes, just feeling that leash and knowing they’re not alone is what helps get them through,” saysJanksy.
Mickler succeeds the Center for Child Protection’s first dog Sydney after she passed away in 2016. She was the first therapy dog in Texas to help children testify in court.
Since then Mickler has assisted 30 children and counting in courtrooms, trial cases vary from physical, sexual abuse to children who witnessed a murder or domestic violence.
Many cases are prosecuted by Frederick who says Mickler is a vital part of helping to build trust and the case against the suspect, “I’m hoping Mickler can provide the comfort the kid needs to talk and explain what happened to them because if the victim is not comfortable they are not going to relay some of the stuff that legally needs to come out and when that happens the case can be weakened.’
Mickler was specially trained with the help of a group called “The Assistance Dogs of the West” based in New Mexico and was named after a fallen U.S soldier serving in Afghanistan. It’s a combination of his breed and training that advocates say makes him the perfect courthouse facility dog that senses fear and anxiety in children, “his job as a facility dog is to be able to sense that and sense when people are frightened or scared and he automatically goes to them,” says Jansky.
After a trial, Janksy and Frederick say they notice a remarkable difference in a child once they are comforted by Mickler in the witness stand. “A lot of times our families are incredibly grateful and at one point this child told Mickler he was her hero,” says Jansky. Frederick says oftentimes after the child testifies, they are outside the courtroom playing with Mickler, it’s a sign of resilience he says, “when you see that they are just a kid now, that the role of victim is done, the trial has ended and they are just being a kid next to a dog, it makes you realize there’s hope to continue being a kid and put this entire thing behind them.”