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Therapy dog program provides comfort In Winnebago County court rooms

Stateline Strong

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A special program is proving to be successful in the Winnebago County court system. It’s meant to provide comfort to those having to deal with some of life’s most difficult situations.

Eugene Doherty, the Chief Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court, says he sees the impact the stress of court has on people.

“We know that when people come to court that’s usually a tough day in their lives a bad day,” said Judge Doherty.

Bella is a six year old golden retriever and it’s her job to make someone’s trip to the courthouse a little less stressful.

Judge Doherty says having the animals at the courthouse also helps make his job easier. “It can be frustrating for the judge, to not be able to change somebody stress level or anxiety level, that we don’t have the ability to do that anywhere near the way these animals can,” says Judge Doherty.

Bruce Erickson, a court appointed special advocate volunteer with Winnebago County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) decided to bring therapy dogs to the Winnebago County court rooms after witnessing first hand the impact court can have on children.

“I realized what these kids actually went through when they’re in court, and that was the main reason why I thought you know… a therapy dog would be fantastic,” said Erickson

He adds not only do the dogs help calm peoples nerves but also to speak up.

“It allows them to talk about things that they normally get really nervous about… not able to speak about,” added Erickson.

The 17th Judicial Circuit Court has used the volunteer therapy dogs since December of 2017. Bella is just one of the eight other dogs coming to court. All of the dogs range from different breeds, colors and sizes.

The therapy dog program is unique in the state of illinois.

“I think were a leader here in the state of illinois and we think that if there are other circuits in other counties that can learn from our example, we’re all for it,” says Judge Doherty.

You can find Rhea, Toffi, Mya, Daisy, Jake, Millie, Duke, Budapest and Bella with their handlers roaming the halls, ready to make anyone’s day in court a little easier.

Erickson says it doesn’t matter why you’re at the courthouse, if you need friend you’ll find one there.

“Mental health court, TIP [Therapeutic Intervention Program] court, veterans court, orders protection, Family court… any place that any person might need a therapy dog,” adds Erickson.

To request a therapy dog, complete and return a request form at least seven days in advance.

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