Rocky Mountain Power Awards Grant for Juvenile Offender K9 Therapy Program

Rocky Mountain Power Awards Grant for Juvenile Offender K9 Therapy Program

(Left to right): Sheriff John Grossnickle, Commissioners Island Richards and Robb Slaughter, Rocky Mountain Power's Ron Wilde, Commissioner Mary Thoman, Deputy Caitlyn Zaragoza, Chairman Keaton West, Lieutenant Rich Kaumo, and Commissioner Lauren Schoenfeld pose with Daisy the therapy K9 during the Sweetwater County Commission meeting Tuesday.

SWEETWATER COUNTY — The Sweetwater County Detention Center started a K9 program to support mental health for juveniles, partially thanks to a $3,000 grant from the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation. 

The Safety and Wellness Grant awarded by the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation helped the Detention Center purchase its therapy K9, Daisy. The grant awarded in March does not require a match. The Sweetwater County Commission unanimously accepted the grant at its meeting Tuesday morning. 

Daisy has become the detention center’s first therapy K9 in its first ever Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) program

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Sweetwater County Grants Manager Krisena Marchal said AAT programs helps with stress, anxiety, depression, autism, attention-deficit disorders, addiction, and emotional and behavioral conditions. 

“As you all know, mental health is a very important issue right now, especially here in Wyoming. Wyoming unfortunately ranks fourth highest in the nation for suicide rates in young adults age 15-24. Then on top of that bad news, it’s worse in detention centers where nearly three out of four youths suffer from mental health or substance abuse issues,” Marchal said. 

“It’s actually an ideal location to implement AAT and stimulate positive communication, lower stress and anxiety, enhance self esteem, reduce aggression, reduce loneliness, and increase emotional awareness,” she added. 

Project is Under Budget

In addition to the Rocky Mountain Power grant, the program also received a Family to Family grant from the University of Wyoming last year. Sweetwater County also pledged to participate in funding. 

Marchal said the initial estimate for start up cost was $14,830. However, due to the detention center getting better costs on the cost of the dog, as well as training for the dog, that initial budget estimate is on the high end. 

“It is way less than that right now,” she said. 

Marchal said that she also initially estimated annual costs of the program to be between $2,000 and $4,000. However, due to community partners helping out with food and other needs for Daisy, Marchal is now expecting the annual costs to lessen as well. 

Deputy Caitlyn Zaragoza spearheaded the program, presenting the idea to Lieutenant Rich Kaumo before they brought it to Sheriff John Grossnickle who was enthusiastic. Zaragoza then started working with Marchal to secure some grants. 

“Here we are a year later and my vision has come to life,” Zaragoza said. “Daisy has helped many individuals in the Detention Center, adult and juvenile. She comes to work with me every day, she has visited our local Black Butte High School. We have many different plans for her.”

Positive Impact

The Detention Center has implemented two different outcome measures, one of which is the number of contact stays with the dog, and the other being a voluntary exit survey with juveniles. 

Zaragoza said the surveys have already shown a big impact that Daisy has had on those at the Detention Center. Lieutenant Kaumo echoed the statements saying Daisy has had a positive impact on juveniles being held at the detention center. 

“You see a difference in the kids right now, knock on wood. We don’t have any current juveniles within our Detention Center but when we do, we’ve had them up to 12 to 13 kids in there in the last year. That’s a lot for us. Us being one of the only four detention centers in the state of Wyoming to house juveniles, the dog does make a huge difference coming in,” Kaumo said. 

Kaumo told the Commission to think about what it’s like for them coming home to a pet, and how comforting that can be. 

“Just that presence of that pet around you definitely brings down that anxiety, depression, and stress levels,” Kaumo said. “We have seen a significant difference within the population overall in the detention center. And actually, for the staff too.” 

Commissioner Robb Slaughter said that he had a dog meet him at the door for 18 years, so he understands that feeling. 

“Hopefully this will help, but if it only helps even one person, what a great thing,” Slaughter said. 

Kaumo said all of the training so far has been done locally at Petco, and they have kept the entire program as local to Sweetwater County as possible. However, they will get Daisy’s therapy training in Franklin County in Ohio, as they are the “godfathers” of K9 training in law enforcement. 

The Commission praised the Detention Center and Rocky Mountain Power for their efforts to address mental health of juvenile offenders. 

“Job well done. I like to see the proactive and kind of different approach to trying to help with mental health issues here, so I think that’s just tremendous. Thanks to Rocky Mountain Power for helping with the funding as well,” Chairman Keaton West said.

Other Business

The Sweetwater County Commission tabled a request to increase the hourly pay for Court Appointed Attorneys. Judge Suzannah Robinson said the pay for attorneys that are appointed to serve as a parent’s attorney in juvenile matters, patient attorneys in involuntary hospitalization matters, and other matters required by statute have remained stagnant for many years.

Currently, the attorneys are paid $100 per hour, while local attorney hourly rates are around $200 per hour. Judge Robinson requested the hourly rate for court appointed attorneys be increased to $150 per hour. She said that while they are able to find attorneys to work on these cases, the attorneys cannot take too many of the cases due to the rates.

The Commission wants to gather data regarding how much the county currently pays for court appointed attorneys before making any decisions, so they voted to table to issue.

The Commission also postponed a motion for eliminating a seasonal position in the County Assessor’s Office and adding a full-time position in its place. The request made by County Assessor Dave Divis would include a salary increase of $76,077, going from $9,120 to $85,198. Divis said that if he could continue with the seasonal position, he would, but that his office needs the full-time position. However, the Commission was hesitant to approve the request due to budget restraints.

Commissioner Slaughter said the county has eliminated positions over the years and offered stipends for people to leave their positions. He said that hiring the positions back “erodes that” effort. Slaughter also added that he knows the department needs the position, but that they need to look at the budget first in case they determine they can’t afford to hire for the position.

Commissioner Lauren Schoenfeld confirmed with Divis that three of his staff members have temporary certification and two have no certification. She said she is concerned that they’ll fill this new position and they won’t be certified either. However, Divis said the only two employees he has who aren’t certified are newer hires, with one working in the department for a few months and the other just over a year. Divis said it takes around three years from the time an employee is hired for them to get certified. Classes for certification are only offered once a year.

The Commission voted unanimously to postpone the motion until after the county’s budget is approved so they don’t fill any positions prematurely.