ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara declared April to be “National Dog Therapy Month” Monday night.
One local organization brings their dogs everywhere, from courtrooms to schools. Unlike service dogs that are meant to assist one person, therapy dogs are around to help anyone.
They help relieve stress and provide comfort.
Residents might have seen the 17th Circuit Court therapy dogs around the Rockford area, but the organization is hoping to implement similar programs across the state.
“The person there that is quite scared about going into court over somebody that has abused them, we will go into court with them,” said Bruce Erickson, executive director of the 17th Circuit Court therapy dogs. “It makes all the difference in the world.”
The 17th Circuit Court therapy dogs have become familiar faces in the Rockford community. McNamara recognized their hard work Monday night, proclaiming April to be “National Therapy Dog Month.”
“That was quite, that was neat,” Erickson said. “It’s totally fulfilling, it really is. Originally, I thought about getting this program up ang going. I thought, ‘ya know, I’m gonna give it 10 years. I should be able to get it growing and grow and grow, and then turn it over to somebody else. Let some new thoughts come in there.’ I’m having too much fun, and we’re still growing.”
The program started nine and a half years ago with just four dogs. They now have over 20.
“A lot of times, we might help somebody or get a phone call that says, ‘hey, can you come into court on this date or that date,’ and we do,” Erickson said. “And we actually sit with the child, or an adult, actually at the witness stand while they have to testify, which really makes it a lot easier for any aged individual.”
It is a program that they want to expand state-wide. Erickson has traveled to Springfield to meet with the governor and state Supreme Court justices.
“We love this program,” Erickson said. “So, that’s a key thing right there. You gotta have your head leadership gonna be willing to back you up, and that’s true.”
Some of the dogs are rescues that are trained to become part of the program.
“Something I look forward to, to be able to help as many people as we can, and I think it’s a win-win for all of us,” Erickson said.
Program leaders are looking forward to speaking to all of the judges across the state. Residents can learn how to get involved on the 17th Circuit Court’s website.