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Maine County Hires Dogs As Courthouse Therapists

Remember Air Bud? It might surprise some of our younger readers that the famous movie character was a real-life dog capable of playing a limited yet impressive form of basketball, and was a late-night talk show mainstay for a decent portion of the early 1990s. While maany under the age of 25 probably consider the talented pup as nothing more than a living prop, Air Bud taught me an important lesson as to the impressive feats dogs are capable of. After all, they are often bred to be human companions, so it isn’t too surprising that they can fit so well into society with some training.

Of course, service dogs help the seeing impaired walk down the sidewalk while avoiding traffic, drug-sniffing K9 units assist police and airport security officers, and military dogs help their personnel defuse deadly bombs. But is the entirety of a dog’s practical use limited to those specific functions? Are there opportunities for hardworking pups to show their softer skills?

A county in Maine seems determined to expand dogs’ arsenals. In Houlton, the site of the Aroostook County courthouse, a yellow labrador named Holiday is starting work as a specially-trained therapy dog. Holiday, who now lives with Aroostook County District Attorney Todd Collins outside of work hours, is there to comfort children and adults who may have sustained trauma due to a crime. 

For cases involving children, like divorce custody hearings, or even more severe cases where a witness might be scared to testify, Holiday and others like him could prove to be a significant benefit to both the courthouse’s atmosphere and even strengthen testimony in certain cases.

“Courthouse facility dogs can provide a sense of normalcy during juvenile and family court proceedings and can accompany vulnerable crime victims,” said Collins, who believes the uses for pups like Holiday go beyond what was generally thought possible.

“They can also provide emotional comfort to family members during the trial and sentencing of the offender.”

It looks like Holiday isn’t alone in Aroostook County. In the Houlton courthouse, the labrador joins a 200-pound English mastiff named Nephi, who is similarly trained to help with trauma and children. According to owner and county victim/witness advocate Valerie Eldredge, Nephi brings an immeasurably calm presence that works well with nervous court participants despite his massive size. “All the other puppies were super excited, but he was just super chill, so I knew he was perfect for our family,” said Eldredge. “I knew right away that he would be perfect for a job as a therapy dog.”

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