SMETHPORT — There were enough canines in the McKean County Courthouse at noon Friday to produce another of the popular Subaru automobile TV commercials featuring lovable dogs.
The occasion was the swearing -in ceremony of the CASA of McKean County Courthouse Therapy Dog Program, which provides these six therapy dogs to children who are participating in dependency court proceedings. This is the state’s first therapy dog program of this type administered by CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates.
“A therapy dog provides affection and comfort to children and adults who need emotional support and are teamed with a therapy dog handler,” said McKean County Judge Christopher Hauser, who spearheaded this program locally. “Dogs are affectionate and friendly toward all people, all ages and other animals. They have basic obedience skills and have been certified to work as a therapy dog by a nationally recognized organization.”
Additionally, all these therapy dog handlers must have completed training in offering the person’s assistance program and also be certified by an organization that insures, registers or certifies therapy dogs and their handlers. They must complete an orientation conducted by CASA and the court, according to Hauser.
Hauser also noted that emotional support for children who have been abused and neglected is at the root of CASA’s courthouse therapy dogs. Other benefits, Hauser mentioned, are aiding in building rapport with caseworkers, attorneys and other professional adults, providing comfort or support for the child while reducing anxiety and stress, improving the child’s self-esteem and providing nonjudgmental acceptance and attention to the child.
The six courthouse therapy dogs and their handlers are Ellie with Donna Dombeck; Andre with Beth Mills; Faith with Judy Stratton; Breeze with Kolleen Press; Finn with Deborah Cavagnaro; and Delilah with Laura Kay Meyers. While the handlers are not CASAs, they are volunteers with the agency and must pass the appropriate background checks.
Hauser administered the oath to the handlers and the dogs on Friday.
The judge elicited some good-natured laughs from the audience as he read the following oath to the dogs: “Do you affirm or pant that as a CASA Courthouse Therapy Dog you will support, comfort and provide emotional support to dependent children and their families? That you will embrace our staff and bear unconditional love and solace, especially on busy days? That you will take this obligation freely, without any promise of treats and that you will faithfully discharge your duties to provide joy, love and nurturing for our children, families and staff?”
The audience learned more about the dogs as Hauser shared some fun facts provided by the handlers: “Andre likes to sit with Beth’s husband on a recliner and watch a football game. Breeze enjoys playing fetch and the agility class. Ellie’s nickname is ‘Ellie Monster’ because she was such a handful when she was a puppy. Finn’s favorite treats are dried sweet potatoes and chicken jerky. Delilah’s favorite treat is hot dogs. Faith’s favorite food is ice cubes.”
Jessica London, advocate supervisor for CASA of McKean County, presented the handlers with certificates and CASA pins for the dogs.
Hauser thanked the following for their assistance in preparing for this ceremony: Dombeck and Mills, county commissioners, Ed Tronetti and the courthouse maintenance staff, CASAs Courthouse Therapy Dog Program Advisory Board, McKean County Bar Association and London.