Therapy dogs to help ease courtroom fears in Delaware County

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Stepping foot inside a courtroom can be scary for anyone, no matter their age. (WPVI)

How can the face on Ariel the Australian Labradoodle not make you smile?

She's one of dozens of therapy dogs working for PAWS for People.

It's a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide anyone who needs it, a therapeutic visit from a loving, well-trained pet.

For the first time in Pennsylvania, some of the dogs will greet kids before they enter a courtroom.

"I see the stress. You can cut the stress with a knife when you walk into this building," said Kathryn Meloni, attorney, Delaware County.

Later this month, Meloni and her trained therapy dog, Frangelica, will head up the Court Companion Program.

They will be joined by eight other pet therapy teams, like Ariel and her owner, David Mullenix of Exton, Pennsylvania.

"Ariel loves people, which makes her a good therapy dog, but she loves, loves children," said Mullenix.

The teams will rotate schedules, not inside the courtrooms, but in waiting areas for Juvenile Delinquency Court and Juvenile Dependency Court.

"She's in her glory. She loves the attention, she loves the pets," said Meloni. "No doubt about it, it is beneficial for everyone involved."

We all know that stepping inside of a courtroom can be intimidating, and for children it can be scary and overwhelming, but in Delaware County, they are working to change all that, thanks to man's best friend.

"... the parents, the district attorneys, the people who are called as witnesses. I hope it would change the temperature, so to speak, and make everybody a little more calm about the experience of having to be in court," said Judge Nathaniel Nichols, Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

Judge Nichols, who presides in Juvenile Court, supports the project.

He says other states are using similar programs and it appears to be beneficial.

Now, Delaware County is hoping the furry friends will provide the same support for local kids, and provide a clam and comforting presence as they enter the courtroom.

For more information visit www.pawsforpeople.org.
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