Breckenridge Texan

JP Court brings a new type of Justice to the Stephens County Courthouse

JP Court brings a new type of Justice to the Stephens County Courthouse
June 19
20:13 2022

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

When local residents go to the Stephens County Courthouse to pay a traffic ticket or handle some type of legal issue, they often are looking for justice. What they aren’t necessarily expecting to find is Justice — the new support dog in the Justice of the Peace’s office/Municipal Court.

The 3-month-old black and white puppy has been a member of the JP’s office for almost a month and is already a hit with everyone in the courthouse….well, everyone except Thomas, the Courthouse Cat; Justice hasn’t quite won him over yet.

Justice, the new sheepadoodle support dog in the Justice of the Peace office, always finds something to entertain himself with when he goes outside for breaks. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Justice is a sheepadoodle — that means he’s part sheep dog and part poodle — a fact that’s fairly obvious from one look at his curly fur, long ears and big paws.

Sheepadoodles naturally have the exact temperament that Justice of the Peace Steve Spoon was looking for in a court support dog.

“The sheepadoodle is a breed kind of best for this,” he said. “They have the right temperament. They’re supposed to be able to find the kid, the person, with the most anxiety and seek them out in the room.”

It will be about another year before Justice is eligible for therapy dog training. In the meantime, the office staff, including Spoon, Justice Court Clerk Adelfa Diaz and Municipal Court Clerk Melissa Vick, are giving him basic obedience training and getting him acclimated to the office environment.

Most weeknights, Diaz takes Justice home, and Vick takes him home for lunch. Spoon dogsits as necessary. Throughout the day, the three of them, plus others who volunteer, take turns taking the dog out for a “potty break” or just some exercise. Spoon said he has started assigning “walking Justice” as an option for some citizens who choose to do public service as part of their retribution.

Kristi Strawbridge in the Stephens County Tax Office gets some “Justice time” following one of his outside breaks. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Although Justice is not formally trained and is not a therapy dog yet, simply his presence in the courthouse, especially in the JP Court and nearby District Court area, has been comforting to a variety of people, Spoon said.

In one situation, a family came into the court, asking for assistance with a young relative. She was upset and closed off, not wanting to talk to anyone, Spoon said. Justice — who had only been in the office for one day — immediately went to the girl. “She just starts laughing, picks him up, and he is just all over her,” Spoon said. “Her whole demeanor changes. And now there’s an openness to talk about what’s really going on … She was cautious … and then he broke the ice.”

In another situation, two young kids were brought into the JP Court’s office while their mother was across the hall getting a protective order. “So, those are bad situations … and kids don’t need to be hearing all that,” Spoon said. “The kids came in here and sat in the (dog) bed and threw this little ball around for Justice and just basically played fetch with him for, like, an hour.”

Although the JP’s office wasn’t directly involved in the case, Justice was able to make a bad day not quite so bad, he said.

Additionally, Spoon has taken Justice to some of the summer school classes at Breckenridge Independent School District and expects that, as a therapy dog, he will be helpful in truancy cases during the school year.

“We really got him for those (truancy cases) because almost every one of those kids who is having attendance issues, probably has emotional issues going on,” he said. “Something’s going on. It’s not they don’t want to go to school, but something’s going on … they are all facing some battles beyond not getting to school.”

Spoons said the point of getting the JP Court involved in a truancy case isn’t to punish the student but to find out what the problem is and find a solution. But, one problem he faces is that the students don’t always understand what’s going on.

“They’ve never been in this situation before; they don’t know that we’re here to help them. So some of them come in, kind of defiant or agitated,” he said. “So we really think Justice could help open up a pathway to talk, because if we can get them talking, then we can find out what’s their passion, what’s going on, what’s the issue. And then we can figure out a path to get there. How do we solve this? And usually it’s just a change in environment or change the way we do things.”

Justice’s impact isn’t limited to people visiting the JP or District courts. Spoon said every day when he takes Justice out for a walk, they visit with others in the courthouse and often stop by the tax office. “They all say, ‘Oh, I need some Justice time!'” he said.

Although Justice is sociable, greeting everyone he comes in contact with, he’s also self-entertaining. In the office, he has a collection of toys, including balls, stuffed animals and more, that he chases around the room. Outside, he’s quick to find a stick or a pinecone or even a pecan to play with, Spoon said.

Spoon found Justice online from a sheepadoodle breeder in New Mexico with connections to Breckenridge. “When we told her what we wanted to use him for, she said, ‘This is the perfect one.’ Of the litter, she said, this is the one who rescues the other ones, who looks out for the other ones. And he’s just so laid back. What an asset to have! We couldn’t be more happy with him.”

Emma McIntosh and Ozzlyn Wells pet Justice while their grandmother takes care of some business in the tax office. Justice is a sociable dog and enjoys getting attention from everyone he comes across. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

Justice of the Peace Steve Spoon usually stops by the Tax Office with Justice every day after the sheepadoodle goes outside for a break. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

At three months old, Justice is still going through obedience training with the Justice of the Peace office staff. When he’s a year old, he will be trained as a certified therapy dog. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Cutline, top photo: Stephens County Justice of the Peace Steve Spoon takes Justice, the new office support dog, out for a walk. The sheepadoodle has been in the JP office for almost a month. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)


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