Monday, June 30, 2014

Lancaster County Courthouse's Newest Employee Has Four Paws

Lancaster County Courthouse has a new employee—and this one walks on four paws. SSD Hamlet has started working at the courthouse as a facility dog. He’ll be working with participants in the Veterans, Mental Health, and Drug Treatment Courts, and he’s only the second dog in the United States to work in the treatment courts. SSD Buster of York County was the first.

Hamlet’s job is to help reduce the stress and anxiety of participants going through the treatment courts. Unlike other working dogs, his harness does not include a “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working” patch because part of his job includes being petted by individuals going through the court system. Research has shown that petting a dog and interacting with a dog can raise the levels of oxytocin in a person, which in turn helps decrease anxiety and stress.

“Traditionally, the court has been seen as ‘the hammer,’ a place of punishment and fear,” says Teri Miller-Landon, the Division Director of Special Supervision for Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole and one of Hamlet’s primary handlers. “But the court is also about rehabilitation and assimilation.”

Having Hamlet there will help people see the court as a place of support, where they can find the resources they need so they can graduate from the program. When they see it as a positive place, they’re more likely to come to court for help.

Hamlet will be working in the courtroom once a week. The rest of the time, he will sit in on appointments with probation officers, offering his special form of canine support. He has been trained to do several tasks, including “visit” (resting his head in someone’s hand or lap), “lap” (putting his front legs on someone’s lap), and “place” (sitting between someone’s legs). And Hamlet sometimes adds a few doggy kisses when he’s performing a cue.  

Hamlet was officially introduced in court on June 26, and he’s already gaining a reputation as a source of support. After his court appearance, many people stopped by to pet him for a few moments. In fact, Hamlet’s presence at the courthouse is affecting more than just the participants in the treatment court. He is also helping to reduce the stress of court employees. A few moments with Hamlet after a stressful phone call or meeting can make all the difference.

When he’s not working at the courthouse, Hamlet lives with Karen Andreadis, the Treatment Court Coordinator for Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole. He gets plenty of time to relax and just be a dog. We hear that he loves playing with Karen’s other dogs and taking his toys out to his favorite tree.

In case you missed it on June 26, here’s the news story about Hamlet’s official introduction in court.

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