Having a courthouse facility dog as a member of the treatment court team provides many benefits for everyone.
Most treatment court participants struggle in their long recovery from substance abuse and mental health issues. Many participants are also unemployed, homeless and estranged from their families. Waiting for a hearing can take hours and during that time many people suffer from anxiety attacks. Unable to remain in the courtroom, some participants leave and a bench warrant is issued for their arrest. This can make their progress in treatment take even longer. It is obvious that many participants are in acute emotional pain while they describe their lack of progress to the judge. It can be a grueling process to stay sober, hold down a job and finish a treatment plan. With all these challenges it can take almost two years to recover and graduate from a treatment court program.
Being involved in treatment court hearings can also take an emotional toll on the staff. Although it is easy to applaud the success of participants, listening to their struggles can be emotionally draining for the treatment court team. Vicarious emotional trauma for staff can also be a problem.
This is why an affectionate dog can provide much needed emotional support to everyone in this setting. For participants, close physical contact with the dog can lower blood pressure and the dog’s non-judgmental silent acceptance can dissipate feelings of shame. For staff, the presence of the dog provides an atmosphere of normalcy in this environment. Participants who are struggling actually look forward to coming to court, knowing that although the judge may be displeased, at least the dog will provide some unconditional love when a sanction is imposed. After a while everyone will come to regard your courthouse facility dog as a member of the “family”.
The presence of a courthouse facility dog in treatment requires a handler who has the time to facilitate interaction between the dog and the participant during the treatment court hearings. The Veterans Affairs Department requires that a service dog must be a graduate of a service dog organization that is certified by Assistance Dogs International for veterans with hearing or substantial mobility impairments to receive benefits. A courthouse facility dog meets this high standard.
Read Chelsea and Jeeter for a greater appreciation for what a facility dog can do to benefit a teenager in drug court.