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Jedi: A Furry Friend For Children In Court

Imagine being a child and having to appear in a court proceeding, whether it is for a custody matter, a protective matter, or even a criminal matter. It can be a daunting and scary thing for many of these children, but there is a furry friend who provides a friendly and reassuring presence. That furry

Imagine being a child and having to appear in a court proceeding, whether it is for a custody matter, a protective matter, or even a criminal matter. It can be a daunting and scary thing for many of these children, but there is a furry friend who provides a friendly and reassuring presence. That furry friend is “Jedi,” a two-year-old Labrador golden cross dog.

Jedi was acquired from Canine Companions for Independence. Canine Companions breeds, raises and trains service dogs, skilled companions, PTSD service dogs, hearing dogs, and facility dogs. Canine Companions gives these dogs at no cost to the recipient/facilitator. “We applied for a facility dog in June 2016; I had a telephone interview in August 2016; I had a personal interview in Long Island in December 2016; and I was selected for team training in February 2018,” Jeri Rook, executive secretary to Lycoming County Judge Joy Reynolds McCoy and Jedi’s handler, told “Webb Weekly”. “I spent two weeks in Long Island in team training and graduated on February 16, 2018, with Jedi. We began working in Lycoming County on February 20, 2018.”

Rook said Judge McCoy wanted to bring a dog into the Courts to reduce stress and anxiety for children that are involved directly and indirectly in the Court system.

She said the goals for why Jedi was acquired being met absolutely. Jedi has been working with children in the Dependency system (foster care), in the delinquency system (juvenile delinquency), in custody matters, and has worked with victims of criminal matters on two occasions at the request of Children and Youth.

“Children are immediately calmed when Jedi walks into the room. He gives the children something to take their thoughts away from the real reason they are there,” Rook said. “He reduces their stress and anxiety. Sometimes he plays with them making being at the Courthouse a little more fun, and sometimes he just lays with them and lets them pet him. Children who have to come into Court on a regular basis now look forward to coming to see Jedi. Facility dogs mitigate the stress and anxiety of children and victims when they are involved in the Court system. Jedi’s impact on the children, staff, and visitors is calming and fun. “Everybody loves Jedi!!”

According to Rook, the courthouse and courtroom staff love Jedi. He has become a distraction from the stresses and trauma we see on a daily basis.

She was asked how were the funds raised to get Jedi and what was involved in Jedi’s maintenance? “As Jedi was given to us at no cost, we had minimal start-up costs. We had a budget set, and Judge McCoy had formed a committee to put together a program which included fundraising,” Rook stated. “Fortunately for us, Lycoming County Children and Youth Services Agency was able to put our expenses into their needs-based budget, and all of his start-up costs were covered. As long as CYS is able, they will continue to budget for Jedi’s basic needs. We have also received discounted food from Snyder’s Country Pet Store; all of his medications (flea and tick, heartworm, etc.) have been donated by the pharmacy that our vet uses; his veterinarian care is provided at a reduced rate from The Animal Hospital on the Golden Strip; and we have received donations from the staff and public which are placed in his account for basic care. I also carry pet insurance for him which would cover any major medical issues, at a monthly fee that is covered under the budget. He lives with, and we provide his general care. Donations can be made to Jedi’s fund and can be made in memory or in honor of a loved one or pet, for which we will issue a certificate. This budget also covers any training that I need to attend. Jedi and I have to be recertified every year, and there are travel expenses that are incurred with this recertification. I attended the Courthouse Dogs Foundation Conference in Washington State in September of 2018 which was covered by the budget. Judge McCoy and I both hope to attend the annual conference in September 2019.”

Rook was asked how she got involved in becoming Jedi’s handler.

“I volunteered to be Jedi’s handler and was chosen by Judge McCoy for my love of dogs. What I didn’t know at the time, is how much I would love being Jedi’s handler and interacting with the children and the public, in general. It is amazing to watch the effect he has on people, especially the children, and how he helps them cope. I enjoy seeing how he is loved and embraced by all: employees, visitors, children and crime victims. He has a gentleness about him that draws him to the most stressed. Walking through a crowded hallway when many proceedings are happening (for instance on PFA days when there are generally several hearings scheduled at one time or arraignments), and everyone looks stressed about being there, it’s amazing to see the transformation when Jedi walks through the hall. Everyone starts to smile and talk to him, some want to pet him, and we end up talking about Jedi, and they forget, even if just for a moment, why they are here. The same with the children. When Jedi enters the playroom and the children turn around and see him, they get huge smiles on their faces, and they are almost transformed before my eyes. One of the victims Jedi sat with during testimony said “is he for me?” and I think he had a small part in her being able to testify, where she was reluctant to do so before Jedi entered the picture. He is a calming presence for everyone. So, what does it mean to me to be Jedi’s handler? I am honored and am extremely lucky to have been chosen.”

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