Judge Jonathan Sjostrom receives the Animal Law Section’s Judicial Achievement Award
Second Circuit Judge Jonathan Sjostrom was the recipient of the Animal Law Section’s 2023 Judicial Achievement Award, created to recognize the contributions of judges in Florida to animal law.
Judge Sjostrom, who just stepped down as the Second Circuit’s chief judge, was recognized for being an early pioneer of bringing canines into the courtroom under the Animal Therapy Program at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
Judge Sjostrom and the recently departed Senior Judge James Hankinson were the first judges in Florida to allow dogs in their courtrooms during child dependency and other hearings.
Judge Hankinson passed away July 6 at the age of 70. The award honors Judge Hankinson, who in 2005 developed guidelines for allowing trained volunteers and their dogs to work with child victims.
Research has shown that the physical act of petting an animal triggers the release of brain chemicals that reduce stress and anxiety. Over the years, animal therapy has helped scores of traumatized children endure the stress of testifying or appearing in a judicial setting.
Since the Second Circuit’s programs inception, dogs have participated in more than 390 court appearances.
In accepting the award, Sjostrom, accompanied by his 130 pound Bernese Mountain Dog, Mike, recognized the work of the courts’ administrative staff for making the program a success.
“There is so much it takes to run a courthouse,” he said. “This is a tiny sideline of what they do so I’m grateful for the recognition. Due process of law is a wonderful thing, it restrains judges, it holds us accountable, holds the process accountable to our ideals, but it is hard. It is hard on people and it is hard on kids. So, anything we can do to make the process move livable for the people that we serve is worthwhile to try, even when it seems as crazy as this.”
Sjostrom said there is a reason the award is named for Judge Hankinson as he “is the person that was responsible for letting dogs in the courthouse.”
A host of therapy dogs accompanied by their TMH handlers attended the event, as did Hankinson’s wife, Allison, and his children.