- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

FULTON, Mo. (AP) - In a juvenile justice system that poses plenty of adversity to young people drawn into it, a Missouri judge came up with a plan to bring therapy dogs into her courtroom during the abuse and neglect docket.

Associate Circuit Judge Sue Crane started bringing the furry canines into the Callaway County Courthouse in September, hoping they would provide a calming presence to juvenile witnesses.

“They are there as a support system for the kids who might be coming to court,” she told the Jefferson City News-Tribune (https://bit.ly/1QQHNBi ).

Crane relies on a group of four or five regular volunteers from Ann Gafke’s Teacher’s Pet program to come in each Tuesday. Gafke trains therapy dogs, starting with the basics, such as teaching them a language they can share with their handler. She also teaches each handler how to train the dogs to learn, listen and socialize.

“It’s like a kid going through the first grade,” Gafke said. “The kid doesn’t start off reading the encyclopedia and neither do dogs.”

Therapy dog handler Ruth O’Neill said she believes the dogs have had positive impact in the courtroom.

“I know from experience with my therapy dog that they provide a very calming influence,” she said. “Being there lowers the temperature of stress in the room, which is kind of an amazing thing.”

Gafke, who has a therapy dog of her own, was visiting a hospital when the family of a coma patient asked for the dog to come into his room. A nurse who had been working to unclench the patient’s fist since he entered the hospital ran his fist over the dog’s head. A few minutes later, the patient’s hand opened. The boy came out of a coma several days later.

“Why do we do this stuff? That’s exactly why,” Gafke said.

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Information from: Jefferson City News Tribune, https://www.newstribune.com


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