By: Ashley Soldaat—
On Monday, February 13th, 2017, the Delaware County CASA Office brought their new Courthouse facility dog to the CASA office for the first time. The Courthouse Dog Program uses trained facility dogs to aid children involved with the legal system in reducing their stress and anxiety as they work through the criminal justice system. The use of facility dogs in the legal process has expanded rapidly in the United States since 2003 and started focusing on CASA organizations in 2010. “Frankie” is a 21 month old Black Labrador, fully trained by Support Dogs Inc. of St. Louis Missouri, to serve as a facility dog.
Frankie, specially bred through Support Dogs Inc.’s own breeding program, was raised by trained ‘puppy raisers’ before being turned over to the advanced trainers at SDI. Both Ms. Soldaat and Ms. Zabel attended the Team Training program provided by Support Dogs Inc., and during the training were paired with Frankie. On February 10, 2017 after a week of intensive team training, CASA Director, Ashley Soldaat along with CASA Case Manager Karen Zabel and their facility dog, Frankie, graduated from the Support Dogs Inc. assistance school and was certified as a team.
Frankie returned to Indiana with Ms. Soldaat and Ms. Zabel and began her four week transition training on February 13, 2017. Her first 45 days with the CASA program will include establishing a strong bond with her new handlers and becoming familiar in her new work environments. Unlike a service dog that assists a person with disabilities or pet therapy dogs that visit people with their owners, CASA’s courthouse facility dog is a working professional who will go to work every day to provide silent comfort and support to children. At the end of the work day, Frankie will go home with Ms. Soldaat to enjoy the life of a pet dog.
Studies provide overwhelming evidence that victims and witnesses are much more at ease and more willing to reveal what happened when a dog is present because of their natural calming effect on both our physical and psychological states, which decreases anxiety and lessens our nervous arousal system. Frankie will be attending hearings in Juvenile Court on a regular basis, supporting both child abuse/neglect victims and delinquents who have to testify in court. She will also be available to children during forensic interviews and for children who have to testify in court against their perpetrators.
There are only two other CASA courthouse dogs placed in Indiana. The Delaware County CASA Program is thrilled to be at the forefront of this new innovative approach to making our justice system more humane. This opportunity was made possible through the support and encouragement of the Delaware County Board of Judges and the Courthouse Dogs Foundation (courthousedogs.org) whose knowledge and inspiration guided them in applying for and acquiring Frankie from Support Dogs Inc.
On March 31st, the Courthouse Dog Foundation will be here from Seattle, WA to train our court personnel and will be holding a community presentation and press conference at 3:00 p.m. in the Delaware County Commissioners Courtroom (3rd Floor, County Building). Anyone who wants to learn more about this program is encouraged to join.
All of the costs associated with the initial development of this program are being paid for from grant revenue. Next year, the CASA Program’s 501c3 Advisory Board will be taking on the responsibility of the financial care and maintenance of Frankie until she retires in about eight years. Those who would like to help the CASA Advisory Board in raising funds can make donations through the Delaware County CASA website (delawarecountycasa.org) or by sending checks to 3412 W. Kilgore Ave. Muncie, IN 47304. For further information or questions, please contact Director Ashley Soldaat by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by calling 765-747-7875.