East Tennessee now has six “court dogs” on duty when youngsters come to trials, reports the News Sentinel, and not for policing purposes.
They and their owners or handlers attend juvenile court proceedings in a program begun in April by CASA of East Tennessee and HABIT.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. Its volunteers advocate for about 200 neglected or abused children each year in Knox County Juvenile Court. CASA volunteers do home assessments, conduct interviews and make recommendations in children’s interests.
HABIT, or Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee, is a University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine program that offers animal-assisted therapy. HABIT owners and their behaviorally and medically screened animals visit nursing homes, schools, hospitals — and now — court.
CASA Volunteer Coordinator Summer Colbert started the program after learning about a similar project at a 2014 national CASA conference. A New Mexico CASA organization owns and cares for its own court therapy dog. Colbert knew CASA of East Tennessee didn’t have the money to buy and care for a dog and knew HABIT already offered animal-assisted therapy.
“I said, ‘I want a dog to be in court … so I contacted HABIT,” she said. “Now we have six therapy dogs.”
…The canines are a “welcome addition” to court, said Knox County Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin. “It’s nice for the kids, nice for the staff. Everybody can use a little cheering up in this business.”
The idea is simple: a child anxious or stressed in court may feel better by seeing, talking to or petting a calm, friendly dog. “The kids don’t expect to see them (in court),” said Karen Armsey. “And they get such joy from them.”