Therapy dog coming to juvenile court

Any time someone has to go to court to testify or have a forensic interview, it can be a stressful period. It is especially stressful for children. In an effort to help ease some of the anxiety in these situations, the Blount County Juvenile Court System is working with Service Dogs of Alabama to secure a facility dog that will be on site to help calm some of these fears.

Securing a therapy dog is no easy task. A dog has to be trained for 18 to 24 months, matched with its handler, and is certified each year along with the handler. One of the first things the puppies are introduced to is scent detection.

As the talents and temperaments of the puppies emerge, it helps determine where they will go for further training.The initial training of the therapy dogs is either through a trained socializer home or in full-time training within the prison system.

The waiting list for a therapy dog is often up to 18 months. Blount County has requested a female labradoodle and has been on the list for more than seven months. According to juvenile probation officer Carol Anne Burrow, the State of Alabama has recommended all juvenile court offices have a therapy dog.

In Blount County, the therapy dog will be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, and Burrow will be the main handler. The dog will be located at Blount JPO during the day and will reside with Burrow when the office is closed.

The money needed to purchase a therapy dog is more than $3,000. Any money over that amount will be set aside for her upkeep, including food, vet bills, grooming, toys, and treats. To date, there has been $4,300 collected through donations and other fundraising activities.

The goal of the therapy dog is to be available for intervention when she smells a scent indicating anxiety from the child being interviewed or testifying. The dog will go and lay her head in the child’s lap, and this will interrupt the thought process of the child while helping reduce some of the tension he or she is experiencing. Other duties of the therapy dog will include going into the schools for programs regarding both child and drug abuse.

Burrow said there has been overwhelming support from the community and businesses as they continue to raise money to purchase and support a therapy dog. She said, “Having a therapy dog is going to be a huge asset. The whole atmosphere where children are is a totally different atmosphere with a therapy dog around.”

Anyone interested in donating to this cause can mail a check to Blount County JPO, 1000 Lincoln Ave, Suite 123, Oneonta, AL 35121, or send it to the Blount County Commission office. Donations are tax deductible.