“Love Unleashed” Florida’s First Courthouse Facility Dog, Tibet, is retiring after years of providing emotional support for traumatized children as they navigate the dependency court system. Since beginning work in 2014, Tibet and her handler, Brenda Kocher, have helped numerous Guardian ad Litem foster children as they face stressful and difficult situations with the support of Voices for Children of Tampa Bay (VFC). In fact, Tibet was a key element in the high-profile Ronnie O’Neal double murder trial back in June of 2021. Tibet sat by the child’s side throughout his gut-wrenching testimony.
Voices for Children partners with the Guardian ad Litem Program of Hillsborough County to ensure abused, abandoned and neglected children have the things they need to feel safe, loved, and appreciated. Tibet has been a huge part of this through The Courthouse Facility Dog program, which is one of VFC’s 3 primary initiatives. This program ensures a highly qualified and trained facility dog be present when a child needs to provide courtroom testimony as needed for case resolution.
“Do you think Tibet believes me?” was asked by a young girl who was abused by her mother’s boyfriend. When charges were filed, she was feeling overwhelmed, and it was difficult recounting the details of the abuse. As Tibet began licking her hand, she felt calm and was finally able to share her account. The program’s primary goal is to provide support so children, such as this, can find their voice and share their story. Tibet has assisted in courtroom testimony in both dependency and felony cases, forensic interviews, depositions, forensic medical exams, sexual assault exams, and victim impact statement support, to name just a few.
Brenda and Tibet have been the recipients of several awards and accolades including 2014 Statewide Guardian ad Litem of the Year, 2018 FVMA Pet Hall of Fame Pet Hero Award, and the 2016 International Courthouse Dogs Foundation “Doggedness” award. Kocher assisted in the modification of state stature FL HB 151 (2017) which added the term “Facility Dog” as an animal which can legally provide accommodation to testifying witnesses. Tibet and Brenda will be honored on February 17th for their unwavering commitment to VFC’s Courthouse Facility Dog Program and to commemorate Tibet’s important work. An Adoption Ceremony, officially welcoming Tibet to the Kocher family, will also be performed by the Honorable Judge Essrig of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit. As Tibet retires, she will pass the torch to Lorne and his handler Dayle Urquhart, who have been helping kids since 2020, as they continue to champion this vital program in Hillsborough County.
Learn more about Voices for Children and their Courthouse Facility Dog Program at: https://vfcgal.org/programs/
Consider joining us to look back over Tibet’s career and the impact she has had on the vulnerable foster children in our community on February 17, 2022 in Tampa. For more information, contact Jennifer Starr, Voices for Children’s Executive Director, at email@example.com or 813-275-9300.