In 29 years beside the bench, court reporter Mindie Baab has seen more than her fair share of sad and scary court cases.
The most heartbreaking involved children, forced to put on a brave face and testify before a jury of 12 strangers, a judge in a black robe above their right shoulder, lawyers in suits pacing in front of them, and the person they have to testify against, staring back at them.
“A lot of times they can’t have their parent in the court room, or their parent is the perpetrator, and so someone from the District Attorney’s office, a stranger, would come and sit with them,” Baab said.
She’d heard of programs in other states where kids could be accompanied by a therapy dog. She started to champion the idea, but learned it was not allowed in Oklahoma.
Then, in 2014, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a new statute into law that made an exception. Children forced to take the witness stand could have an emotional support animal by their side.
Baab jumped on the opportunity, and after learning she would have to cover all the costs on her own, did so gladly.
Baab adopted new-born Aussiedoodle puppy Jerzy Girl and set to work on the rigorous two years of training required to turn Jerzy from playful pup into Courthouse Comfort Professional.
Her training goes beyond that of a typical therapy dog, to include the ability to detect when someone’s heart rate and blood pressure go up, and respond by leaning into them or giving them her paw.
In 2016, Jerzy become the first full-time facility court dog in the state of Oklahoma, and wakes up every day excited to go to work.
She is often seen with bows in her hair or holiday outfits, and on rainy days she wears a rain coat and bright red doggie rain boots.
“Now, when I’m not a court reporter in the court room, I am a court dog handler,” Baab said. “I will accompany Jerzy when she spends time with children who are meeting with investigators or police, and then she will follow that same child through the process.”
“In my opinion, a dog is never a stranger,” Baab said. “Sometimes I talk about Jerzy as a furry security blanket in the court room.”
In one early case, Jerzy sat with a child while the child was meeting with investigators. The very young child was asked to recount simply horrendous details about the case, and started crying.
“Jerzy put her paws on the child’s leg, and started licking the tears of the child’s face,” Baab said.
The child threw their arms around Jerzy and sobbed into Jerzy’s fur while hugging her neck. Then, surprising everyone, the child said, “This is the best day of my life.”
“It was amazing, because this child was talking about the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to them, but a dog showing them compassion. ‘I’m here with you and it’s okay,’ It quickly became a good day for them, because they had that security blanket,” Baab said, tear welling in the corners of her eyes. “It was at that moment I just knew, this is what I am supposed to do.”