Therapy dogs help juveniles cope in court, detention - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Therapy dogs help juveniles cope in court, detention

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MURFREESBORO, TN (WSMV) -

For years health care workers have touted the benefit of using animals as part of a patient's care.

Studies show they can help lower a person's blood pressure, reduce anxiety and depression.

It was a packed house at the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center on Friday.

Dozens of children, parents and their attorneys filed into the courtroom. Kids who have been abused, neglected and just plain scared.

"Our children have had to testify against their parents, with certain acts that they've done, and it's terrifying," said juvenile court judge Donna Scott Davenport.

Earlier this summer Davenport had an idea to turn this normally frightening process into something a little less scary with the help of two small Shetland border collies.

"We've used these dogs to help them," said Davenport. "They hold them during testimony, and if they have a meltdown, they just take a moment and hug the dogs, and they just go on."

At least twice a month, Mika, Trixie and their owner Susan Lucas from Delta Pet Partners stop by the juvenile detention center to visit with the kids.

"Along the way people have let them down," said Susan Lucas with Nashville-based Delta Pet Partners. "It's all about putting them at ease, making them feel good about where they are, getting them through a stressful situation."

It started out as a test project in Rutherford County to teach offenders coping skills and reduce stress and anxiety.

Some were a little hesitant at first, but now even the most hardened offenders can't resist the dogs' faces.

"We've had kids in her for murder and they get that dog, hug the dog, they get to emotionally interact with that dog," said Capt. Rebecca Baskette of the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center.

All the detainees learn how to train and work with the dogs, according to Baskette.

"That interaction with an animal also reflects onto their home life," said Baskette. "When they go home, they're able to maybe open up a little more and express themselves better."

Hopefully helping to break the cycle that brought them to the detention facility in the first place.

"They don't feel judged by the dog, that's the biggest part of it," said Lucas. "They get unconditional acceptance, and that's what we all want."

The program doesn't cost Rutherford County taxpayers a dime. Lucas provides the services free of charge.

The dogs are certified and trained through the Nashville Dog Training Club and Therapy ARC.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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