Quantcast
Advertisement

Calm, cool and furry: Therapy dogs help ease nerves in veterans court

As a state judge, Ed Kubo has heard his share of shaggy-dog stories. This one was different.

Since late September he has allowed an 8-year-old boxer named Athena to regularly attend sessions in Veterans Treatment Court, a program he oversees under the state Judiciary.

A trained service dog, Athena — coincidentally named after the Greek goddess of war and justice — seeks affection from all who will give with her soulful brown eyes, and provides a calming influence inside and outside the courtroom in return.

That effect was on display on a recent Friday in court, where a 33-year-old two-time Iraq war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder sat waiting for his case to be called, his leg bouncing up and down with nervous energy.

The former soldier, who has substance abuse and anger problems, reached over the back of the wooden bench where he was sitting to pet Athena repeatedly, and did so again after his turn before Kubo.

The 62-pound brown-and-white boxer, wearing reindeer antlers and a small Santa's cap for the holidays, quietly lapped up the attention.

While he stood before Kubo, the former GI jammed his hands in his back pockets and rocked his body in slow circles.

"Honestly, every day is a battle, every day is a struggle," the man told the judge.

Kubo has seen it all before, and he knows how much Athena can help.

"Since Athena came in, there's been a sea change going on in the courtroom," he said.

The first time the pooch and her owner, Ron Stebbins, came to court, defendants were in the hallway waiting for the courtroom to open, and one veteran was having a reaction to the use of Spice, a synthetic cannabis, Kubo recalled.

"He started to not act out, but his mind was starting to spin out," Kubo said. "She (Athena) came to this floor, she bypassed everybody and she went directly to him. She put her snout on his lap (and) he calmed down."

Across the country, pet therapy is being used to help active-duty service members and veterans receiving treatment at hospitals and in rehabilitation.

"Pet therapy is directly linked to improved health and wellness of the wounded, ill and injured," the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center said in a statement. "It significantly impacts recovery time, the healing process and enhances social skills."

Therapy dogs and cats can aid with PTSD, lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety and depression, the center said.

Kubo said he read about the effects pets were having with PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

"I started thinking, That might work in my courtroom," he said.

Eleven veterans in the program who got in trouble with the law have their cases supervised by members of the Hawaii State Judiciary and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in an attempt to get them back on track.

"At one point in their lives, they wore our nation's uniform, and they swore to guard our safety at any cost, including death," Kubo said in March, when the specialized court was just 6 weeks old. "We owe them."

The defendants have to appear before Kubo nearly every week.

Michigan started using dogs in its veterans courts, and Hawaii is only the second state in the nation to use pets as therapy in the program, according to the Hawaii Judiciary.

Kubo said other states are now considering adding pet therapy in their veterans courts.

The judge said he asked his wife, Tammy, who is involved with the Hawaiian Humane Society, whether she knew of a therapy dog that might be able to help in veterans court. The Humane Society's pet visitation program now is in its 30th year.

"And the word came back, we have a veteran who has a service dog who does marvelous work at the VA and other locations," Kubo said. "I said, ‘My God, that's perfect for this.'"

Stebbins, 78, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and professional dog trainer, said he has been involved with the Humane Society's pet visitation program for about three years but has volunteered with the organization for more than 20 years.

He relies on Athena, a dog he adopted from the Humane Society, as his own service dog, in part to help him with a knee that was shot up in Vietnam.

She acts as a "brace dog" and can help him get up if his knee gives out, Stebbins said.

In court a panting Athena looked around the courtroom for a human cue for her to amble over under the watchful eye of Stebbins. If he sees that one of the veterans is getting agitated, he will motion Athena over to that individual.

A helicopter pilot who "flew everything in the Army" on two tours to Vietnam in the late 1960s, Stebbins said he received two Purple Hearts for wounds received while flying.

"We got shot at," he says matter-of-factly. "I've got bullet holes in me and shrapnel and all kinds of stuff."

As a veteran, Stebbins takes an interest in the court program.

"I've been through the drill that they are going through now," he said.

He said there is a simple formula for the success of a dog such as Athena in veterans court.

"Dogs don't lie, cheat or steal," he said. "They are not judgmental."

Dogs "accept (the veterans) as they are, right then and there. … There's a trust, and it's a nonjudgmental trust that they have, that the dogs have in people."

As the veterans, their mentors and others waited in the hallway for Kubo's court to open, a low-key Athena worked the crowd, looking for a kindly pat on the head.

"That's my girl," said Sammy Houseberg, a 25th Infantry Division veteran and one of the mentors in the program, as he greeted Athena.

"She's the bomb," said Jojo Lupica, who served in the Marines from 1980 to 1984 and now is in veterans court for unauthorized control of a vehicle.

Asked whether Athena helps, Lupica, 51, said, "Yeah, you know, it kind of brings the soft side out in us. She's a big help around here. Puts a smile on my face."

"With Athena and Judge Kubo, you can't go wrong," Lupica said. "The judge gives so much respect and honor to all of us, and he gets it back. He just makes us feel like people again. Athena — she makes me smile."

Kubo told Stebbins after the session that he was "a blessing to the court, and I can't thank you enough."

Kubo also related how Stebbins had told him, "Athena's working so great, let me bring my therapy bird with me next time."

"I said, ‘What? Therapy bird?' I said, ‘No,'" Kubo said with a laugh.As a state judge, Ed Kubo has heard his share of shaggy-dog stories. This one was different.

Since late September he has allowed an 8-year-old boxer named Athena to regularly attend sessions in Veterans Treatment Court, a program he oversees under the state Judiciary.

A trained service dog, Athena — coincidentally named after the Greek goddess of war and justice — seeks affection from all who will give with her soulful brown eyes, and provides a calming influence inside and outside the courtroom in return.

That effect was on display on a recent Friday in court, where a 33-year-old two-time Iraq war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder sat waiting for his case to be called, his leg bouncing up and down with nervous energy.

The former soldier, who has substance abuse and anger problems, reached over the back of the wooden bench where he was sitting to pet Athena repeatedly, and did so again after his turn before Kubo.

The 62-pound brown-and-white boxer, wearing reindeer antlers and a small Santa's cap for the holidays, quietly lapped up the attention.

While he stood before Kubo, the former GI jammed his hands in his back pockets and rocked his body in slow circles.

"Honestly, every day is a battle, every day is a struggle," the man told the judge.

Kubo has seen it all before, and he knows how much Athena can help.

"Since Athena came in, there's been a sea change going on in the courtroom," he said.

The first time the pooch and her owner, Ron Stebbins, came to court, defendants were in the hallway waiting for the courtroom to open, and one veteran was having a reaction to the use of Spice, a synthetic cannabis, Kubo recalled.

"He started to not act out, but his mind was starting to spin out," Kubo said. "She (Athena) came to this floor, she bypassed everybody and she went directly to him. She put her snout on his lap (and) he calmed down."

Across the country, pet therapy is being used to help active-duty service members and veterans receiving treatment at hospitals and in rehabilitation.

"Pet therapy is directly linked to improved health and wellness of the wounded, ill and injured," the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center said in a statement. "It significantly impacts recovery time, the healing process and enhances social skills."

Therapy dogs and cats can aid with PTSD, lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety and depression, the center said.

Kubo said he read about the effects pets were having with PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

"I started thinking, That might work in my courtroom," he said.

Eleven veterans in the program who got in trouble with the law have their cases supervised by members of the Hawaii State Judiciary and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in an attempt to get them back on track.

"At one point in their lives, they wore our nation's uniform, and they swore to guard our safety at any cost, including death," Kubo said in March, when the specialized court was just 6 weeks old. "We owe them."

The defendants have to appear before Kubo nearly every week.

Michigan started using dogs in its veterans courts, and Hawaii is only the second state in the nation to use pets as therapy in the program, according to the Hawaii Judiciary.

Kubo said other states are now considering adding pet therapy in their veterans courts.

The judge said he asked his wife, Tammy, who is involved with the Hawaiian Humane Society, whether she knew of a therapy dog that might be able to help in veterans court. The Humane Society's pet visitation program now is in its 30th year.

"And the word came back, we have a veteran who has a service dog who does marvelous work at the VA and other locations," Kubo said. "I said, ‘My God, that's perfect for this.'"

Stebbins, 78, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and professional dog trainer, said he has been involved with the Humane Society's pet visitation program for about three years but has volunteered with the organization for more than 20 years.

He relies on Athena, a dog he adopted from the Humane Society, as his own service dog, in part to help him with a knee that was shot up in Vietnam.

She acts as a "brace dog" and can help him get up if his knee gives out, Stebbins said.

In court a panting Athena looked around the courtroom for a human cue for her to amble over under the watchful eye of Stebbins. If he sees that one of the veterans is getting agitated, he will motion Athena over to that individual.

A helicopter pilot who "flew everything in the Army" on two tours to Vietnam in the late 1960s, Stebbins said he received two Purple Hearts for wounds received while flying.

"We got shot at," he says matter-of-factly. "I've got bullet holes in me and shrapnel and all kinds of stuff."

As a veteran, Stebbins takes an interest in the court program.

"I've been through the drill that they are going through now," he said.

He said there is a simple formula for the success of a dog such as Athena in veterans court.

"Dogs don't lie, cheat or steal," he said. "They are not judgmental."

Dogs "accept (the veterans) as they are, right then and there. … There's a trust, and it's a nonjudgmental trust that they have, that the dogs have in people."

As the veterans, their mentors and others waited in the hallway for Kubo's court to open, a low-key Athena worked the crowd, looking for a kindly pat on the head.

"That's my girl," said Sammy Houseberg, a 25th Infantry Division veteran and one of the mentors in the program, as he greeted Athena.

"She's the bomb," said Jojo Lupica, who served in the Marines from 1980 to 1984 and now is in veterans court for unauthorized control of a vehicle.

Asked whether Athena helps, Lupica, 51, said, "Yeah, you know, it kind of brings the soft side out in us. She's a big help around here. Puts a smile on my face."

"With Athena and Judge Kubo, you can't go wrong," Lupica said. "The judge gives so much respect and honor to all of us, and he gets it back. He just makes us feel like people again. Athena — she makes me smile."

Kubo told Stebbins after the session that he was "a blessing to the court, and I can't thank you enough."

Kubo also related how Stebbins had told him, "Athena's working so great, let me bring my therapy bird with me next time."

"I said, ‘What? Therapy bird?' I said, ‘No,'" Kubo said with a laugh.

Join the conversation and share your voice.

Show Comments

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement