York County's newest courthouse dog to help troubled kids

Liz Evans Scolforo

Fahrenheit, the York County Judicial Center's newest facility dog, wears an explicit warning tag on his collar: "Can't hold my licker."

Court officials are counting on it.

Fahrenheit, a two-year-old yellow lab watches his handler, Chad Haas, supervisor of juvenile probation, before joining the ranks as a facility dog serving in York County childhood court matters, Monday, March 7, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

The 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever's job is to calm and reassure children and teens involved in the county's juvenile justice system, so youths can focus on their recovery and rehabilitation, said April Billet-Barclay, York County's director of probation services. He'll also be used occasionally to provide the same comfort to victims and witnesses caught up in the juvenile court system.

"He is just the sweetest dog," she said — a real cuddler and kisser. And Billet-Barclay should know, because Fahrenheit goes home with her every night after work.

She and Chad Haas, a supervisor with the county's juvenile probation department, share Fahrenheit's handling duties during work hours.

Loads of personality: Haas said Fahrenheit is loaded with personality, but can "turn it on and turn it off," meaning he can sit quietly and unobtrusively when appropriate.

He has beds in both Billet-Barclay's and Haas' offices, and Haas said he finds himself feeling calmer simply because Fahrenheit is stretched out next to him.

"This is no ordinary dog," York County President Judge Joseph Adams told a crowd gathered for Fahrenheit's introduction ceremony Monday morning in the old courthouse's ceremonial courtroom.

"Our goal is to help juveniles make good choices," the judge said, and facility dogs such as Fahrenheit can be an important tool in achieving that.

Funded by donations: The York County Bar Foundation, the charitable arm of the county's bar association, donated $18,000 to York County to acquire two new facility dogs — half for Fahrenheit and half for the facility dog that will eventually be assigned to the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families, according to Billet-Barclay.

The $9,000 earmarked for Fahrenheit covers his training, purchase, food, veterinary appointments and other needs for his first year with York County, according to Judge Adams. A private donor will take over after that, he said.

Attorney Paul Minnich, president of the foundation's board, said the foundation funds social-justice initiatives in the community.

"This is very exciting for us," he said.

Fahrenheit's tag "warns" people that he can't hold his "licker." The yellow Lab's job will be to provide calming reassurance to juveniles in the juvenile justice system. 
Liz Evans Scolforo photo

Buster came first: Fahrenheit was trained by Susquehanna Service Dogs, the same Harrisburg-based organization that trained Buster, who became York County's treatment-court facility dog in 2013.

Buster was the second courthouse facility dog in Pennsylvania, officials have said.

Susquehanna Service Dogs trains service dogs, hearing dogs, balance dogs, service dogs for those who served in the military, courthouse and other governmental facility dogs, in-home service dogs and companion dogs, according to its website.

Fahrenheit has been undergoing training since he was a puppy to learn to offer comfort, companionship and affection, according to Adams.

"As soon as his vest comes off, he loves to play," Billet-Barclay said, especially tug-of-war, and he loves to bestow affection on Billet-Barclay's 10-year-old daughter.

Work-a-day world: A typical workday for Fahrenheit will vary, but could include sitting in on intake interviews with juveniles, attending individual and group counseling and discussion sessions, sitting next to juveniles during court hearings and being part of drug-and-alcohol evaluations for juveniles, according to Haas.

Fahrenheit is friendly with everyone, Haas said, but people who want to greet the yellow Lab with the green work vest should show a simple bit of common courtesy.

Ask his handler for permission before approaching or touching the dog and, if you get the permission, only pet Fahrenheit behind the work vest, not on his head, Haas instructed.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.