The 17th Circuit Court Therapy Dogs are local celebrities with a busy calendar.
“The students know the dogs’ names,” said Bruce Erickson, Executive Director of the 17th Circuit Court Therapy Dogs. “That’s all we look for. We don’t even care if they know ours.”
They are hard at work each day providing comfort at the Family Peace Center or going to court to sit on the witness stand with kids and adults. The dogs also visit most area high schools and middle schools.
“When you go into different classrooms, kids that might be having a real bad day, as soon as they see that dog, that big smile is there. You know you’re getting through automatically,” said Erickson.
Erickson and his dog Remi recently went to Marion, Illinois to help the First Circuit with a program of their own.
“We were able to work with them and help them set up a therapy dog program identical to ours down there,” said Erickson. “They have one dog working right now. We talked to one of the local kennels that’s going to start teaching therapy dog training.”
Erickson was surprised to get the call, wondering how a city 400 miles away in southern Illinois knew about them.
“She said she searched therapy dogs working in the court system in the state of Illinois. We’re the only one that comes up,” said Erickson. “So that was really rewarding to see that some of the big things have realized what we’re doing out there.”
November 2023 will mark ten years since the start of the program, but Erickson isn’t ready to stop anytime soon.
“I was hoping to give it ten years, get it going, and let somebody else take over and have fun,” said Erickson. “I’m just enjoying it too much. I can’t turn it over yet.”
There are 25 dogs, all certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, that serve Winnebago and Boone counties. Compare that to Cook County, which only has one.
Next month, both Erickson and Remi will be attending a conference with about 150 judges from across the state. The hope is that their presentation will encourage others to start a program in their circuit.
You can keep up with the program by following their Facebook page.