Detainees paired with pets at Rutherford County Juvenile Detention

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Rutherford County Juvenile Detention has begun working with the Pet Partners Program. 

Once a week, one of two registered Pet Partner Teams visit with the young people in Juvenile Detention.  The teams interact with the kids through educating them about dog safety, demonstrating ways to train a dog, and the importance of trust in all types of relationships. 

Beth Clark and her Yorkshire Terriers, Knightly and Chessler, were the first dog team to agree to work at the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center.  Beth and her team of Yorkshire Terriers have been performing pet therapy work with Pet Partners since 1999.  Beth contacted Susan Lucas who agreed to bring her Shetland Sheepdogs, Teddy and Mika, to the facility. 


Susan and her team have been with Pet Partners since 2008.  Both of these Pet Partner Teams have worked with a variety of clients, but the dogs really seem to enjoy working with children and adolescents.

After one particular visit, a quiet 17 year-old girl charged with aggravated domestic assault told a staff member that although it was “hard being here, the dogs made it better.” 


A 16 year-old young man charged with robbery also looks forward to seeing the therapy dogs. 

“I like it when the dogs visit,” he said.  “They calm my nerves.  I liked learning about training dogs.  Now, I want to try and train my dogs when I get out.  Maybe that will help keep me out of trouble.”

Juvenile Court Judge Donna Davenport said it is unfortunate that most of the children detained here are because of assaultive behavior.

“Our hope from this program is that our detained children will find alternative ways to problem-solve which don’t include physical force, yelling and aggression,” Judge Davenport said.  “This program teaches them discipline, patience, control and responsibility.”

One common thread running through juvenile court is those children who have never experienced unconditional love, the Judge said.  This program teaches juveniles that everyone, including themselves, deserve respect and love.

“It has become clear that this program may very well be providing a child’s first experience with another living creature that is built on gentleness and trust,” Judge Davenport said.

Facility Director Lynn Duke said therapy dog programs have been shown to teach responsible pet ownership and empathy, reduce anxiety and improve morale. 

“Allowing the kids to love all over these therapy dogs helps to counter balance our no-touch policy,” Duke said.  “It brings back some normalcy.”

The only thing missing is little black and white striped bandanas so the dogs can sport the “team” colors since the kids’ jumpsuits are black and white.

Susan Lucas and Teddy demonstrate training methods with a juvenile volunteer.

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