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Canine court companions officially sworn in to Sarasota County pet therapy program

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Ruby is spending her retirement like many others on the Suncoast, volunteering. The only difference, Ruby is a seven-year-old bull mastiff. The AKC champion traded in the show ring for the court room.

"She's been in the Paws program for several years with the Child Protection Center, and she's now also in the 12th Circuit Court pet therapy program doing dependency court and delinquency court."

Ruby Begonia and Lucia Topp are one of several human/canine volunteer teams just sworn in to the new pet therapy program for the Sarasota County Dependency Court.

"Dependency court is one of the saddest courts I've ever been in in my life," Topp said. "It's so much better with the dogs there. The first time we were in dependency court, one of the attorneys said 'this has been the best court date ever.'"

Judge Rochelle Curley for the 12th Judicial Circuit said dependency court handles some of the most difficult cases of children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected.

"We deal with heavy issues and when we see the dogs in the courtroom, you can see everyone take a deep breath and head for the dogs," Curley said.

From the case managers to the bench, Judge Curley said everyone in the court room benefits from the snuggles and slobbery kisses.

"The therapy dogs are not only helping the children and the juveniles but they're helping the parents, and the attorneys and the judge!" Curley said.

"Everyone gets a smile on their face; she's the purveyor of smiles in dependency court," Topp said.

The only thing Ruby asks for in return is a belly rub.