Going to court is never easy for kids.
But with the help of Frankie, a 21-month-old Black Labrador who serves as a facility courthouse dog, Delaware County Court Appointed Special Advocates hopes to change that.
"She's an ambassador for the children and is here to support our children," said Delaware County CASA Director Ashley Soldaat.
Frankie helps children reduce stress and anxiety as they go through the criminal justice system. She worked with her first child just this past week, after she completed all of her training.
"The child came in stressed, but he was all smiles after meeting Frankie," Soldaat said. "With Frankie, we have the opportunity to make an impact on any child's life."
She attends hearings in juvenile court to provide support to child abuse and neglect victims, juvenile delinquents who have to testify in court, children giving forensic interviews disclosing abuse and those testifying at criminal trials.
If a child is stressed during an interview or while in court, they won't open up as much, so the dogs help to relieve some of that anxiety, said Celeste Walsen, executive director of Courthouse Dogs Foundation, the organization that trained Frankie.
"Petting a dog is just like their mom being there with an arm around them," Walsen said. "People feel safe when they're with a relaxed dog."
In courtrooms, Frankie has to be calm. She can't beg for unsolicited attention or jump around the room. Her sole focus is being a steadying figure for a scared or nervous child.
But Frankie's life isn't all work and no play. When her job is done, she goes home with Soldaat to be a normal dog. Her vest comes off, and she's allowed to play like a normal 2-year-old dog.
"It's not a pet, she is a working dog," Soldaat said.
Only one other CASA courthouse in Indiana, Monroe County CASA, has an accredited assistance dog, according to a CASA news release. Monroe County's dog, Jordy, graduated in December 2016 from the Indiana Canine Assistant Network.
Frankie is one of 137 courthouse facility dogs in 35 states, Walsen said. But she hopes for the program to continue to grow because it helps so many kids.