Rutherford County Juvenile Court Judge Donna Scott Davenport tells WGNS that a small dog is now allowed in the courtroom to help children cope with questioning when they are scared or nervous.
Susan Lucas owns and trains Mika, a small Shetland Sheepdog that is brought into the courtroom for children to pet while they are providing testimony. Judge Davenport told us that the dog helps to calm children and the service does not cost the courts anything. Lucas volunteers her time on a weekly basis.
The Rutherford County Juvenile Courtroom is the only juvenile courtroom in the state to utilize a trained therapy dog to help calm children.
More details on the subject:
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 bandannas so the dogs can sport the “team” colors since the kids’ jumpsuits are black and white.
Susan Lucas, Therapy Dog Trainer, Volunteer
Juvenile Court Judge Donna Scott Davenport
Juvenile Courts of Rutherford County, Tennessee