Mitchell and Rikki were called to the courthouse, where they sat on the floor with the little girl, who fed Rikki her favorite treat of baby carrots and stroked her silky golden fur. The prosecutor leaned over and gently asked, “Do you know what happened between you and Mr. ____?” Without looking up, the girl kept petting Rikki and began telling new details. She was able to make a statement, Mitchell said, and law enforcement had enough to arrest the man.
When it came time to give a deposition, the girl had her hand on Rikki’s leash as they walked down the courthouse hallway. And Mitchell, who tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, actually curled up under the table, holding Rikki’s leash and feeding her carrots.
Rikki rested her head on the lap of the little girl, who cried into the dog’s fur and spilled out her testimony.
“I wanted to bite the defense attorney’s ankles myself, and blame it on Rikki,” Mitchell said about the painful questions asked of the child victim for more than an hour.
Once back at the state attorney’s victim/witness room, Mitchell said, they received a call from the defense attorney, who basically said now that he realized the victim was able to testify, his client was ready to cut a deal.
Currently, Mitchell said, plea negotiations are underway.
“If this case goes to trial, we may be in the courtroom,” Mitchell said. “We will not be sitting in or near the witness box. I believe if we put a dog in a witness box with a child, it would create an overly sympathetic witness. I think we would sit behind the defendant in the courtroom spectators’ seats. The jurors will look at the victim. And the victim will be able to look past the defendant and watch me petting Rikki. And when she is through testifying, she’ll know Rikki will be there.”
Why does Mitchell, formerly the owner of a construction company and now a director of Premier Bank, do this kind of volunteer work?
“When I get to see my dog make a connection with somebody, and help relieve some of their pain or stress even for a few minutes, and light up their face, who wouldn’t want to be Santa Claus giving out a bag of smiles? And you have somebody tell you, ‘But for your dog, my child wouldn’t be able to get through this.’ This is the best giving back to the community I’ve ever done.”
This story was first published in The Florida Bar News.