Our office has two therapy dogs that serve our district – Willa and Bear. Although both dogs serve all three counties, they are housed in separate counties. Willa is housed in Cleveland County and Bear is housed in McClain County. Their role is vital – it is to provide comfort and companionship to those who come to those offices to tell their story.
Both Willa and Bear were trained at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, OK through the Guardian Angels Program, which is sponsored by Friends for Folks.
Friends for Folks is a nonprofit that partners with correctional facilities in Oklahoma to assign a dog that was previously abandoned to an inmate trainer. The inmate trainer works with the dog to train them in obedience. The dog will then go on to be adopted by a family, undergo further training to become a service or therapy dog, or, in the cases of Willa and Bear, come to work as a law enforcement officer.
Willa and Bear’s training at Mabel Bassett was just the first step in becoming therapy dogs. The next step is to go through a therapy dog certification which consists of a few tests to determine if the dog’s obedience and temperament qualify them to be a therapy dog. Willa and Bear are both certified through the H.A.L.O. Foundation. H.A.L.O. is also a nonprofit and its mission states that they, “believe in the health and wellness our pets deliver to those who find themselves in times of transition, trauma, or crisis.”
No one asks to be a victim of a crime or even to witness one, so we work to provide the highest quality of care and comfort when people come in to share their stories.
It is our job to seek justice and represent those who have been the victims of crime. At times that means holding a loved one accountable or testifying about a crime they witnessed. That can be difficult to do, so our therapy dogs become a great asset in helping people feel comfortable while here.
Our office has had both Willa and Bear since May 4, 2020. See how we’ve grown to love these two dogs since then!
Willa is a 10-year-old lab who was rescued from a puppy mill. She has a very calming presence but is always willing to play with the other dogs at daycare or with her friends around the courthouse, especially when Bear comes to visit. Her favorite toy is her blue dinosaur and she never turns down a belly rub. She loves to chase the rabbits in her yard or take naps in her “office.”
Willa has her own DA’s office ID badge and understands when she is in “play mode” and when she needs to be in “work mode.” Every time she sees a child in the office, she immediately approaches them and makes an instant friend. She is always prepared to provide comfort and assistance to anyone who might need it.
Bear is a 100-pound German shepherd who was donated by a family before starting his training. He is almost 3 years old and has an endless amount of energy! Bear loves to chase the leaves that fall from trees or visit the Court Clerk’s Office when he can. The DA’s Office staff loves to take him on walks and knows his picky taste in treats.
Although Bear is playful, he is also very smart. He knows how to play peek-a-boo and open the courthouse doors. He understands when it’s time to work and loves to play with the kids who come to the courthouse. His handler, Jonathan, says that Bear loves to go outside and get dirty, but the “times Bear spends with victims make every bath worth it.”
Oklahoma Statute (12 O.S. Sec 2611.12) currently states that children 18 and under are permitted to have a therapy dog with them in court.
As you can see, Willa and Bear are beloved by all. They are a therapeutic presence for victims, witnesses, and even employees of our office. We are very thankful to have them and believe they are crucial for connecting with members of the public to make them feel secure while they are in the office.
Congratulations to Willa on being inducted into the Oklahoma Animal Hall of Fame!