Scout is one of five 2022 AKC Awards for Canine Excellence recipients. She won the Exemplary Companion category. This category recognizes dogs without formal training or certification that have nonetheless distinguished themselves in some way and have made a meaningful contribution to their owners or communities.
For almost a decade, Scout has been going to Coweta County Juvenile Court in Newnham, Georgia, with Judge Joe Wyant. And throughout that span, the sturdy, 40-pound Boykin Spaniel has been a stressbuster for dozens of children fraught with fear and nervousness.
That’s why the pair are recipients of the American Kennel Club’s coveted 2022 AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence Exemplary Companion Award.
Scout wastes no time establishing a comfort zone for these children, mostly aged 5 to 12 years old. “She meets with kids that are in dependency cases, helping me communicate with them by providing a calming presence,” Wyant says. “Kids don’t expect to see a dog when they come to court, so she disarms them a bit, allowing me to do my job more effectively.”
And make no mistake about it, Scout does not like being left behind and missing a day in court. “She knows my routine,” he adds, “and knows I leave the house shortly after putting my shoes on. She’ll go wait by the back door, ready to go to work.”
Bringing a Dog to the Courthouse
A dog in a courtroom may seem strange, but for Wyant, it just made sense for him as an incoming judge working with children.
“I knew the children would be nervous in a setting that was totally foreign to them,” he says. Add a judge, parents, case workers, court workers, attorneys, and a court-appointed special advocate in the mix, and you have all the ingredients for a particularly stressful environment.
Engaging and personable, Scout has produced a litany of upbeat memories for Wyant.
A couple of years ago there was a hearing involving a 5-year-old girl, who was a victim of molestation. No one was able to break through to her. But her attorney told her she had some questions that needed to be answered.
“I am sure I was pretty imposing at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, as well,” Wyant recalls. “We went down the hallway in the courthouse and when she saw Scout things changed dramatically. Scout started sniffing her and flopped down on her lap as we sat on the floor. She immediately started laughing and giggling and said she had a cat at home.
“As Scout created a comfort zone, she began to smile and open up to answering questions. I have no doubt that without Scout, we would not have been able to break the ice and get the needed answers so smoothly.”
A similar result occurred when an 8-year-old was in court to discuss domestic violence she observed between her mother and stepfather. “It was difficult for her, but Scout put her at ease. She asks for Scout every time she comes – which is every few months for a review.”
Choosing a Boykin Spaniel
Wyant recently lost two Golden Retrievers, one to cancer and the other to old age, and was seeking a companion with hopefully a longer lifespan that could accompany him to work and would be good with kids.
He began talking to other dog owners in town and told them of his priorities for his next breed and then began researching the Boykin. He needed a dog that was friendly, not skittish, and one that kids could climb on without fear of being bitten. “Equally important, I needed a breed that gently set boundaries where she could remove herself from a situation in which she was uncomfortable rather than confront,” he says.
Size was important, too. He did not want a breed that was too big but yet sought one that was muscular and sturdy.
After settling on a Boykin, he reached out to Paisley Knudson of Larley Boykin Spaniels, in Calhoun, Georgia, about 100 miles away, who had a litter of nine puppies – five girls and four boys — born on Halloween in 2012.
“We use early neuro stimulation protocols, which impacts early development and presents a more confident puppy that accepts change and transitions well,” Knudson says. “There were three puppies in that litter that screened well as possible candidates for the judge’s needs.”
According to Knudson, Scout was an all-around balanced puppy that had a clear on-and-off switch, which can be unusual for sporting breeds at a young age. She watched everything around her and demonstrated a thoughtful pause when encountering a new situation or challenge, including successfully completing several puzzle tasks quickly.
Wyant knew right away she would be Scout, named after the character Scout Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.
“She has lived up to her name and seen the goodness in all as her namesake represented without prejudice or judgment,” he says. “Dogs have a way of being able to do that.”
Smiles for Years to Come
Now 10 years old and still healthy, there is no telling how much longer Scout will continue to be courthouse kids’ biggest comforter. “Her energy level is still good, and she still runs down the hallway when it’s time to work,” he says. “I am hoping we can retire together in six years.”
Scout’s ability to interpret human behavior is also an asset in the building. Wyant believes that she knows when the energy is off and when someone is upset or angry. “I think that’s why she shies away from coming into the courtroom on delinquency days,” she says. “She will read the room and usually come back up to the bench and go to sleep by my feet or ask to go back to the office.”
Outside the courtroom, Scout thrives on daily exercise – two-mile walks with Wyant and his wife, Jennifer. “She loves the woods, and we try to take a longer hike on Sundays to satisfy her needs,” he says.
Scout isn’t the only Wyant household dog. There’s Piper, a rescue mixed breed, who is the matriarch and enforces the rules, and 9-month-old Beckham, a 91-pound German Shepherd Dog that is “incredibly smart but oblivious to his size and strength. For now, Scout is still above him in the pack structure,” Wyant says.