Since becoming a Lycoming County Judge in 2010, I have wanted to bring a facility dog to the Lycoming County Courthouse. A facility dog is a specifically trained dog that works with a specially trained handler. Unlike service dogs who are dedicated to the assistance of a particular individual, facility dogs serve numerous people who are involved within the facility.
Court proceedings can be extremely emotional and stressful for the parties involved, this is especially so for the children involved in the Court system. Well-documented research shows that petting an animal lowers the level of cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone. Lowering the stress levels of Court participants increases the likelihood of more complete and accurate information being provided because everyone involved can focus on the issue at hand, rather than the stress of simply being in Court.
In January, 2016, a small committee was formed to look at the possibility of obtaining a facility dog for the Courthouse. The committee did extensive research into the feasibility and need for a facility dog, the best program to obtain a dog through, and how to financially sustain the program.
On June 22, 2016, an application was submitted to Canine Companions for Independence for a facility dog. Canine Companions for Independence is a non-profit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs and a lifetime of support to ensure quality partnerships, all at no cost to the facility. The dogs master over 40 commands before entering Team Training. If a dog becomes available, the handler will undergo an intensive two-week course that teaches dog-handling and care. During these two weeks, our handler will be matched with a dog that best suits the needs of our Courthouse.
The primary purpose of the Courthouse facility dog will be to assist children involved in dependency, delinquency and family court cases to reduce anxiety and stress for children, their families, and other participants so that they are better able to engage with the proceedings. This program is designed to provide vulnerable children and their family members with canine support during the interview and testimonial phases of the judicial process, and to help soothe the fears of children, both in and out of the Courtroom, who are involved in dependency, delinquency and family court cases. The priorities of the Courthouse dog will be (1) dependency proceedings; (2) family court proceedings; (3) delinquency proceedings; and (4) special additional requests.
Lycoming County Courthouse is currently on the waiting list to be matched with a facility dog. This does not guarantee that we will be matched with a dog, but the committee remains hopeful.