There’s a new face roaming the halls and spreading smiles at the Hayes Building this year — Franklin, a therapy dog in training.
When Probation Officer Gia DeGirolamo started working at the probation department of Delaware County Juvenile Court in 2016, she saw an article about therapy dogs, printed it out, and wrote “GOAL” on it.
DeGirolamo said there are many advantages to having a therapy dog in the juvenile court.
“I see a lot of trauma,” DeGirolamo said. “I want the trauma cases. I can relate to those, because I was a victim of trauma and I know what my dog has done for me. Dogs can increase your dopamine and decrease your (stress hormone) cortisol. It was a wrap for me. It’s scientific, and I’ve seen it work. It’s worked for me personally.”
Now, the 14-week-old embodiment of that goal, Franklin, can be seen walking the halls. Often, he is stopped by juvenile court employees, including Judge David Hejmanowski, who can’t resist petting the K9. DeGirolamo said Franklin was adopted from the Delaware County Human Society and was officially transferred to Delaware County as a therapy dog in training at the start of this year.
DeGirolamo, who handles Franklin, said he’s still a puppy and has more puppy, obedience, and therapy training to go. By May, she added, he’ll be done with most of his training. Franklin is a black Labrador mix, DeGirolamo said.
She added he’s already lifted the spirits around the court and has already helped to comfort a victim in a case the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office was handling.
“I’ve seen what he can do, even untrained,” DeGirolamo said. “It’s just amazing to me. Everywhere we go around the courthouse, it’s ‘Franklin! Franklin!’”
DeGirolamo’s supervisor, department head Kara Moore, said she had doubts and questions about the logistics of having Franklin but said he’s been an asset.
“I’ve seen a kid with a therapy dog here,” Moore said. “They relax. They are able to talk. Sometimes they talk to the dog. As soon as you offer the support of the dog, they are able to come down and talk and be able to express themselves differently. His temperament has been perfect. He’s very calm, very soothing, and very fluffy.”
Hejmanowski said he can think of a lot of jobs for Franklin in the juvenile court.
“(Franklin) is a calming presence,” Hejmanowski said. “I sometimes have to interview kids in child abuse and neglect cases who can be very young. They are coming in and sitting down with a strange adult they’ve never met before and that can be terrifying to them, so having Franklin present in those situations will be great to make it calmer and distract them a little. There are a variety of circumstances (where Franklin can be of use).”
Hejmanowski said Franklin has already calmed some juveniles who were brought into court for being unruly, adding he’s enjoyed getting to know Franklin.
In hopes of building a relationship with Franklin, Hejmanowski said he’s been trying to visit him at least once a day.
“I want him to be comfortable around me, too,” Hejmanowski said.
Moore said they’ve already gotten calls from a few other agencies about using Franklin in situations that involve children.
“It’ll be interesting to find out who calls and who needs him,” Moore said. “The stars aligned. We’re very fortunate to have found this puppy.”
County residents can follow Franklin at the Facebook page “DelCo Therapy K9 Franklin.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.