Canines caring for kids at the courthouse

Posted at 8:34 PM, Jan 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-13 20:35:46-05

Eleven year old Mayday and 6 year old Shillelagh are a team.  The mother and daughter eating and playing together. But they also have a serious job at the West Palm Beach Courthouse.

The two golden retrievers are a pleasant distraction for kids who are in the juvenile court building.

The two therapy dogs help children relax, especially since many of the kids have to testify in court about difficult life situations. Neil Cleary, a volunteer who owns the dogs said, "There was a 12 or 13 year old who was being taken, losing her mother, permanently losing custody, and all she did was she kept brushing as the magistrate was talking to her, brushing Mayday and it's difficult times."

The dogs have seen a lot of kids through the years, but for the dogs' owners, some cases are emotional. Lin Cleary said, "Her aunty was sitting with her, and told her sweetheart we have to get up. And she looked up startled and she said she forgot she was in court. and I thought, that's why mayday is here. to make you forget you are in court."

Today, Mayday and Shillelagh comfort Zoenyah as she and her family prepare for court.

The dogs don't cost the county anything, but for the kids they comfort, their time is priceless.

Cristy Altaro, who is the Juvenile Operations Manager, oversees the Caring Canines Therapy Dog Program.

She told us, "If they are just able to get in the moment and be there with the dogs and forget about why they are here. If we can give them a little bit of peace, and reduce some of that anxiety while they are waiting for court, then we have done a great thing."

Neil and Lin say they couldn't think of a better way to spend their retirement years. "I think we both feel proud to be a part of this organization. Also very proud of the dogs and the good that they do," said Lin.

Mayday and Shellelagh aren't the only dogs at the courthouse. There are 20 dogs that volunteer.

For more information contact:
Caring Canines Therapy Dog Program