Since 2018 the Lycoming County Courthouse has had something special that others don’t, a facility dog.
Jedi, a yellow Labrador retriever, was the first dog, and Ludo, a black Labrador retriever, is the current dog, and they have helped so many people in different ways.
“We are working very hard to reduce the traumatic effects that coming to court- for whatever reason- has on people,” said Judge Nancy Butts.
Butts said that she believes having a facility dog can go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.
“People seem to relax when they see a calm friendly dog approach and Ludo is both,” said Butts. She said she never imagined what working with a dog would be like.
Although Judge Butts currently shares office space with Ludo, she wasn’t the person who originally came up with the idea, former Judge Joy McCoy was.
“From what I remember, she thought that a Facility Dog would be a comfort or therapeutic assist to those struggling with anxiety or trauma who had to come to court, in family court or juvenile hearings,” said Butts.
Butts’ first thoughts about the Facility Dog Program for the courthouse were that she was grateful McCoy suggested it.
“Coming to court can be so traumatic and if there was some way to reduce that anxiety, I was all for it,” said Butts “I had worked in the DA’s office as an assistant DA, so I knew of their problems firsthand.”
Butts also thinks that the success of a facility dog also comes from the handler. Ludo’s handler is South Williamsport resident Jerri Rook.
“She takes excellent care of him so that he can come to work every day prepared if he needs to assist others,” said Butts. “I think a successful facility dog program owes a lot to the person that they are paired with.”
Butts said that Jerri is very devoted to her dog and takes her job as his teammate very seriously.
Jerri Rook, Jedi and now Ludo’s handler plays a huge role in this program. She takes care of Ludo outside of work every day. He goes home with her every night and she really loves and cares for him.
However, she doesn’t get to choose which dog she wants. “They have a process they go through to match the dog and handler based on what they are going to be doing and temperaments,” said Rook. “Jedi and Ludo both have very calm temperaments.”
Rook said she had to spend two weeks in training with each dog before bringing them home, but before she could go to the training with Jedi, she had to apply for a dog, had a phone interview, and then she was on the waitlist. For Ludo, the process was a bit different. She had a successor application interview and then she attended the training.
Rook sees that the benefits of this program are “Providing a calming presence without disturbing court proceedings.”
“I think that is what makes him so successful at what he does,” said Butts.
McCoy, however, was the judge in Lycoming County who oversaw the creation of the courthouse dog program in Lycoming County. She said she had learned about courthouse dogs at a state-wide judicial training she attended, and when she got back she spoke with her executive assistant about it and then the program was in the works on coming to Lycoming County.
Jedi, the first dog made a huge impact on everyone who worked in the courthouse, and the children and people that appeared in court, said McCoy. But his untimely passing due to cancer left a huge hole in the system.
“Jedi made an incredible impact on every single person he met,” said McCoy. “Even people who may not be dog lovers and were hesitant, he won them over very quickly.”
McCoy said that even though this program is so successful, there were doubters in the beginning. There were some attorneys and some elected officials who did not think it was a great idea or would work, but Jedi ended up proving them wrong in a big way.
“Jedi paved the way for the use of facility dogs in Lycoming County,” said McCoy.
Actually, some of his biggest doubters became his biggest fans.”
“The impact Jedi made on the kids he helped, the staff he helped is not something you can really measure,” said McCoy. “Just his presence made a big difference.” McCoy never got the opportunity to work with Ludo, but she said she knows he is every bit as much of an asset to the court system as Jedi was.
Although this program seems like it was really hard to establish, it wasn’t. From the beginning of this program, there has always been a lot of support, and there were a lot of people who were willing to help out. Jerri said she did most of the research about what agency they wanted to go through to get the dog, and they decided to go with CCI.
McCoy said that they were very lucky that their county children and youth agency financially supported the program. It definitely made it easy for them to convince the county commissioners and other judges to support the program when there was no cost to the county, she said.
“I think that being the first program like this in our county generated a lot of support for it,” said McCoy. McCoy also said that “The hardest part was waiting for a dog- and we really did not have to wait that long but it felt like forever.”
“Overall I feel that they both have benefited the courthouse and children in immeasurable ways,” said McCoy. “Our Courthouse is a better place with the dogs around to help everyone.”
Meet Ludo, your furry friend!
Age – 3
Birthday – March 20
Likes – ice cream and squeaky toys
Dislikes – loud noises and fireworks
Favorite Food – all other foods he has tried
His least favorite food – lettuce
Favorite Hobbies– Playing ball, running, and playing with other dogs, and he loves the snow