(KMSP) - A first-of-its-kind program in Minnesota uses therapy dogs to help victims of domestic and sexual violence get through the legal process and reduce trauma.
360 Communities, the largest non-profit in Dakota County, started the program in January 2017. A trained therapy dog, Ranger, helps console victims at crime scenes, helps them explain difficult details at the police station and helps them testify in the courtroom.
“It’s far more successful than I thought it would ever be,” said Ann Sheridan, the Director of Violence Prevention and Intervention at 360 Communities. “I do want other programs to do this. I think this should be accepted everywhere.”
Ranger was provided to 360 Communities by PawPADs, a non-profit in Lakeville that trains assistance dogs. “It takes a lot. He has to take in all of those emotions, be appropriate,” Linda Ball, the founder of PawPADs, told Fox 9.
Stacie Burke, the outreach advocate for 360 Communities, is the handler for Ranger. “I’ve been working in this position previously without Ranger, so being able to contrast how my clients behave in the courtroom with them now is incredible,” Burke said.
Stacie said she can see the difference Ranger provides in seconds, remembering one women who was petting the dog. “When she started petting Ranger, it was very stiff, very restricted movement. And the more she started petting him, the more relaxed she became. You could see it.”
Apple Valley Police say Ranger has made it easier for them to talk with victims. “When we bring that dog in, the focus is on the dog and not the officer. And that victim knows we’re just there to help them in any way we can,” said Captain Nick Francis of the Apple Valley Police.
The police officers have become quite fond of Ranger, and say he helps them de-stress as well. “When you look at that dog, it’s like he’s looking into your soul.”
Ranger, 8 years old, is used to being around trauma. He consoled first responders after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and lived with a survivor of the Ft. Hood attack.
360 Communities and PawPADs said they would be willing to discuss the program with other organizations that may be interested. They emphasized the need to have strong partnerships with various government agencies and organizations.