Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Therapy Dog’s ‘Pawsitive’ Influence on Drug Court Participants

Facing a judge can be intimidating. But in Summit County, there’s a new probation officer who provides some hand holding, at least with his paws.

Tank, a certified therapy dog, is a probation officer working as a member of the Turning Point program.

It’s an Ohio Supreme Court-certified drug court, serving non-violent felony offenders who have committed crimes as a result of their addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. 

"Nobody can say his name without getting a big smile on their face,” said Christine Croce, a presiding judge over Turning Point and the Summit County Court of Common Pleas.

The 18-month-old Golden Retriever came at the recommendation of his partner, Summit County probation officer Jillian Zetts.

She researched the idea, provided a proposal, picked him up, and underwent handler training.

“Personally, I've been impacted by dogs. I've had dogs my entire life. I think they're just good things to have in our lives, and I thought that the compassion component of a dog would be a great benefit to our program,” said Zetts.

While therapy dogs are commonly used to calm abused children testifying on the witness stand, Zetts has found other benefits to having a therapy dog in the courtroom more often.

“Tank definitely helps clients, kind of reduces their level of stress. I think he just kind of makes them relax in their own environment. It helps open the lines of communication with my clients,” said Zetts.

Summit County Court of Common Pleas Judge Joy Malek Oldfield, who inherited the program in 2016 and runs it with Judge Croce, cited how quickly Tank is already making an impact in the courtroom.

"We heard from one participant who was having a particularly bad morning, had a custody hearing, had to come here, and Tank eased her anxiety,” Judge Malek Oldfield said.

"In addition to our participants benefitting, so do our case workers, our probation officers, and myself,” Judge Croce said. “He walks into court, it tends to calm everybody down,” said Croce.

The court obtained Tank through “Circle Tail,” an accredited organization in southwest Ohio that provides and trains service and hearing dogs at no cost to the individual. He also completed several months of training through the Inmate/Canine Educational Training Program at the Dayton Correctional Institution, a state prison for women.