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Facility dog calms the court

Therapy dogs have long visited medical facilities and schools offering comfort to patients, students and staff. But there is only one dog in Montana that goes to court.

Therapy dogs have long visited medical facilities and schools offering comfort to patients, students and staff.

YPR’s Orlinda Worthington brings us the story of the only dog in Montana that goes to court.

“Hi my baby, how are you today?”

Wicker, an eight year old black lab, sports a royal blue vest as he walks the hallway outside a Gallatin County courtroom. He is the only facility trained dog in the state to work in a court setting.

Wicker spent years several years assisting a disabled person, until those circumstances changed.

“It was like, what are we going to do with this highly trained dog, but he's kind of too old to give to a person to start over.”

Enter Patricia Urie, a retired forensic scientist.

She was fostering Wicker through Canine Companions - a nationwide service dog training organization where she volunteers.

“And I said, I will get a job for us.”

So, the two retirees… Wicker, a former therapy dog, and Urie, a former forensic scientist teamed up, trained up and went back to work.

On this day they are visiting drug treatment court where participants welcome a wag from Wicker.

“Wicker is the calming of our court. He calms us down,” a court participant said.

As we speak, Wicker lays his head on my lap.

“There’s a command for that but he knows to go ahead and do it on his own. And you should feel a little bit of pressure and that helps calm you down. It gets those good hormones in your body to kind of release and feel better,” Urie said.

“He was doing his job.” “He was doing his job, yeah.”

Inside the courtroom, Wicker must stay quietly in one place.

“ What I’ve noticed is he has a very calming effect on the participants and the people who are involved, even the attorneys, myself included.”

Eric Kitzmiler is with the Attorney General’s office.

“Court can be a very stressful environment to be in, and I think a facility dog like Wicker allows us to sort of relax a little bit more, he senses the anxiety and stress in the courtroom and he helps us deal with that in a way that’s really helpful. ” Kitzmiller said.

Wicker lies in view of those on the stand, between the desks of Kitzmiller and defense attorney Kirsten Core.

“Being in court is not always a pleasant process. They can look down and see there’s a little bit of life,” Core said.

Urie also taught Wicker some Spanish, so those who don’t speak English can interact with him. And they’ve expanded their work to attend interviews with children who have to testify.

“Oftentimes they’re very nervous about it. And so they come in and go, ‘Oh, a dog,’ it becomes friendly,” Urie said.

Urie spends her own time and money volunteering with Wicker. She doesn’t see the two of them retiring from this job anytime soon.

“We finished our background check and orientation to go to the detention center to help the inmates there, which is a brand new program,” Urie said.

“It gives me purpose and it fulfills his destiny, that’s why we do it.

In Bozeman, I’m Orlinda Worthington.

Wicker has his own calendar, which Urie makes each year and gives to all the departments and agencies they visit.

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.