Therapy dog to help witness testify - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Therapy dog to help witness testify

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A local therapy dog will make history this week when he helps his owner get through a difficult time in court. This Wednesday Beth Zilbert will be in State District Court in Jeff Davis Parish--where she expects to be face to face with the man whose actions allegedly nearly killed her.

But for the first time in a Louisiana court Zilbert will be allowed to have Luke, her therapy dog, by her side. 

It's been nearly two years since  Zilbert and her friend Shannon Cox were in the horrific crash that left Cox dead and Zilbert severely injured. As as much as Zilbert looks forward to resolution of criminal charges against Roy Serie, the idea of testifying in court frightens her "I have never seen the man alleged to have almost killed me. And that'll be the first time that I"ve actually seen him and I'm going to be having to speak in court and address him and as strong as I am, I'm not sure I can do it," she said.

 Zilbert was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder after the crash which left Cox and Serie's wife dead. "It affects your memory. It affects your ability to speak. It affects your ability to relate to people. It affects your ability to answer questions," said Zilbert.

Her dog, Luke, is a certified therapy dog and when court gets underway Luke will be at her side.  Zilbert says, having a pet beside a victim can calm the nerves and allow one to move past the anxiety that can otherwise paralyze. "In order to move the justice process along if I can relax, and breathe deep, I can think more clearly, I can recall much more accurately, and I can speak much more eloquently so that justice can be done,"said Zilbert.

 Zilbert, herself an attorney, thinks the situation offers tremendous opportunity to move the justice system forward, if victims with PTSD and other emotional disorders caused by trauma are allowed to have a therapy dog as a reasonable accommodation to help them in confronting the source of their trauma.

"Imagine if a child is hurt by somebody and they have to testify in open court against the person who hurt them. What if they could bring their therapy dog into court with them and give them the courage to do what they have to do. It helps make justice happen as well,"said Zilbert.

The truck, driven by Serie, cut through the median and struck another traveling the opposite direction. The investigation and tests revealed that Serie was allegedly under the influence of THC, the drug found in marijuana.  He was charged with vehicular homicide, felony negligent injury and DWI.

 Look for more on this story on later editions of KPLC7News and at www.kplctv.com

 Copyright 2012 KPLC. All rights reserved

Zilbert has issued the following press release:

LUKE, EXPERIENCED THERAPY-DOG, MAKES LOUISIANA HISTORY AIDING VICTIM TESTIFY DESPITE DEBILITATING PTSD

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                    FOR MORE INFORMATION:

MARCH 2, 2012                                             Beth Zilbert, The People's Advocate 337-513-2857

Susan Stanford, Humane Society Dr. Dogs Coordinator  337-802-5616

                                                                        Dr. Brenda Roberts, EdD, LPC, LMFT  337-478-1411

On March 7, at 1:30pm, at the 31st Judicial District Court in Jennings, Louisiana, Luke – a registered Therapy Dog – will assist a victim diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) testify in open court at the trial of the person accused of hurting her.  This will be the first time that a dog has been allowed into a courtroom in the State of Louisiana to assist a victim. 

"After the car wreck that took two other lives and came so close to taking my own, I was practically paralyzed by fear, grief, and anxiety – not to mention the pain of my physical injuries."  Stated Beth Zilbert, Co-Founder of The People's Advocate and Luke's owner.  "It was my counselor who approved using Luke, who had been helping patients, children, and others in need in the SWLA community, as my own therapy dog to help me recover from the effects of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that I was diagnosed with."

Luke is approximately 8 years old.  He is a neutered male Golden Retriever mix.  He is a certified and registered member of Therapy Dogs International – a national organization that tests and certifies dogs to become registered and active Therapy Dogs.  He has been a certified Therapy Dog for more than 5 years. 

"Dogs are so full of unconditional love and are so socially motivated that they have been shown to be a wonderful help in working with persons with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and other anxiety disorders.  Just stroking the coat and hugging the neck of this animal can and does calm the anxiety of a young child who has to tell the awful story of when he or she was abused or a returning veteran who is thinking about something atrocious that happened during wartime.  These animals have been known to never leave the side of an anxious person until they were calm."  Brenda Roberts, EdD, LPC, LMFT, New Horizons Counseling Center

Luke has been key to helping re-start Southwest Louisiana's Pet Therapy program.  He is a rescue from hurricane Katrina.  After being nursed back to health from a life-threatening illness, it was clear that his fantastically calm temperament and incredibly loving personality made him the perfect poster-child for pet therapy work.  

"Our Dr. Dogs Pet Therapy team now has 22 dogs with wonderful temperaments that provide affection and comfort to people of all ages. We started our group with just 1 big red dog.   Luke Zilbert, whom we call the ‘Godfather,', led the way for the rest of our dogs with his calm, trusting personality.  He seems to know who needs his friendly touch and how to give it to them." Stated Susan Stanford, Team Leader, Dr. Dogs Pet Therapy Project of the Humane Society of Louisiana, SWLA Chapter.

Luke was also key in helping get the New Leash on Life project started.  New Leash on Life pairs dogs rescued by the Parish Animal Shelter with kids housed at the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC).  The kids rehabilitate and train the dogs, and the dogs rehabilitate and train the kids.  In the 3+ years that New Leash on Life has been implemented, more than 100 kids have come through the project with a recidivism rate less than half that of the general population of the JDC.  Sixty-one dogs have been adopted out through New Leash on Life.

The success of New Leash on Life has created an even-larger community healing project:  Patriot Dogs.  Once the dogs graduate from the JDC with their basic obedience skills, some of those pooches will then enter the therapy dog training component which will be implemented by the women inmates at area correctional centers participating in The Open Door – a re-entry program designed to help women inmates successfully get their lives back on track to happiness and achievement.

" The women, coming out of jail, are attempting to successfully re-enter their families and community.  The Patriot Dog Program will not only provide them with job training but also help them develop their nurturing skills.  Their pride and self-esteem will increase when they see the difference they have made in the lives of the dogs and returning men and women of the military.  The act of "giving back" motivates them to continue with their own self-improvement."  Said Connie Durio, Louisiana Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Supervisor, Lake Charles District.

All of these good works, and all of the healing and possibilities, started with this one really good dog. 

"I hope that the precedent that Luke sets on March 7 will well serve many, many others who have to face what seems impossible.  They will gain courage and strength, and be able to do what they need and want to do with the assistance of a Therapy Dog."  Zilbert stated.

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