The Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office announced on Wednesday an innovative therapy program for juveniles housed at the Sweetwater County Detention Center.

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That's according to a press release from the SCSO, who announced Wyoming's first animal-assisted therapy program to help juvenile offenders at the Sweetwater County Detention Center.

"The first of its kind in the state, an one of only a handful across the country, this new therapy program will feature a dedicated sheriff's office K-9, specifically trained, certified, and assigned to a detention deputy handler, to assist with crisis intervention and to support the overall mental health and wellness of juveniles residing at the facility," the press release stated.

The SCSO stated that the purchase of the doggo, and its training (along with the training of its handler) is thanks to a grant awarded to the Sheriff's Office by the University of Wyoming's Family to Family Health Information Center.

According to the release, Wyoming ranks among the top ten states in the United States for at-risk youth; many of whom are facing various mental health and substance abuse challenges.

"For juveniles who find themselves behind bars, recent studies suggest that this subgroup of individuals is even more disproportionately affected, with three out of four juveniles facing incarceration reportedly suffering various mental health and substance abuse issues," the release stated.

The release noted that the Sweetwater County Detention Center is one of only four county detention centers in Wyoming to house juvenile offenders. It stated that in 2021, the facility housed 46 separate juveniles. Lengths of stay, the release stated, fluctuated anywhere between 3 days to 100 days.

The SCSO and those involved with the detention center understand the risk of recidivism and they want to do what they can to help prevent it.

To do so, they're enlisting the help of man's best friend.

"With the help of a specially trained K-9 therapy dog at the detention center, the sheriff's office hopes to increase positive communication, lower stress and anxiety, enhance self-esteem, reduce aggression and loneliness, and to increase emotional awareness among its juvenile population," the release stated.

Sheriff Grossnickle with the SCSO credited detention center deputy Caitlyn Zaragoza for developing the idea and implementing it, as well as Sweetwater County's Grants Manager, Krisena Marchal, for helping to make the grant funding possible.

"The science behind similar animal-assisted therapy programs among law enforcement agencies across the country clearly supports the positive impact that these types of program have on their participants," Sheriff Grossnickle stated. "We're excited, and we hope that it has a huge impact.  You hear across Wyoming, 'We need to do something with mental health.'  Well, at the sheriff's office we're tired of hearing that, and so we want to put our best foot forward and do more about it."

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