Courthouse Dogs Foundation visits the Elk County Courthouse
RIDGWAY--Jerri Rook, executive assistant to Lycoming County President Judge Nancy Butts, visited the Elk County Courthouse on Thursday along with her Courthouse Dog Ludo.
In the early summer of 2022, Rook was appointed by the Courthouse Dogs Foundation to be the Pennsylvania State Coordinator of Justice Facilities Dogs U.S.
Susanne Straub Schneider, Elk County Prothonotary & Clerk of Courts, has been working with Rook over the past year to see if a Courthouse Dog would work for Elk County.
The Courthouse Dog Foundation (CDF) educates legal professionals about the benefits of using a courthouse facility dog. This includes information on reducing stress during legal proceedings and how to successfully implement a courthouse facility dog program using the best practices in this field.
Courthouse facility dogs are professionally trained dogs in prosecutor's offices, child advocacy centers, and family courts throughout the country. They primarily provide a calming influence for children during stressful legal proceedings. As legally neutral companions for witnesses during the investigation and prosecution of crimes, these dogs help the most vulnerable witnesses feel willing and able to describe what happened. The dogs also emotionally support participants in family court proceedings and specialty/treatment courts.
Rook is currently working on compiling a list of working courthouse facility dogs and their handlers throughout the state, as well as organizations that may have a facility dog that works in the courthouse.
As a member of the CDF, Rook wanted to learn all she could about courthouse facility dogs and provide training in the areas where she uses her facility dog Ludo.
"The foundation and program have brought so many handlers together, and long-lasting friendships are made through them," said Rook. "They also provide much-needed support and training to the handlers. I hope to have someday a statewide facility dog program to allow our facility dogs to assist other counties where there are no current programs and to help facilitate programs in courthouses looking to start their own programs."
Rook previously worked for former Lycoming County Judge Joy Reynolds McCoy, who was the family court, dependency, and juvenile delinquency judge. McCoy was instrumental in starting the Courthouse Dog program in Lycoming County years ago.
In 2018, their first facility dog, Jedi, who was
donated by the Canine Companions organization, began working with children in the court system. They then began to work with victims
in the criminal court system, victims of domestic violence, and treatment courts.
Jedi was diagnosed with lymphoma in September of 2021, and although they began chemotherapy treatment, immediately Jedi was
too weak to continue and sadly passed away in November of 2021.
In April of 2022, Rook was invited back to Canine Companions for a successor dog, and Ludo started working in June of that year.
"I could go on and on
about the dogs I worked with," said Rook. "They have changed my life for the better, that's for sure. I hope that in the future, all courthouses have a facility dog available for their visitors, staff, victims, and children.”