A therapy dog is trained to provide support, comfort, and affection to those who need it.
North Star Family Advocacy Center in Braham added just that to their team. The 1-year-old dog, named Lola, will soon serve as a therapy dog.
The center is a nonprofit whose mission is to listen to, connect with, and support families and vulnerable adults impacted by abuse and allegations of maltreatment.
North Star’s purpose is to reduce further trauma to children, families and vulnerable adults by offering comprehensive support and embracing a collaborative multidisciplinary approach to the investigation, treatment, and prosecution of reported cases of abuse and maltreatment.
To further assist with the interview process, the center decided Lola would be a benefit by assisting individuals while being interviewed at the center.
“Just to help with the kiddos, I started doing research — and of course I wanted a dog anyway — but that was just the icing on the cake,” said Cassie Dibeler, forensic interviewer and program coordinator.
Dibeler conducts the majority of the interviews at the center and brought the idea of having a therapy dog to the rest of the team. With their quick approval, Lola joined the team at 12 weeks old in December 2021.
Dibeler adopted Lola from Ruff Start Rescue in Princeton. Lola came all the way from Texas before finding her forever home at the center and with Dibeler, when she’s not at the office.
“She rescued us,” said Jeremie Reinhart, executive director of the North Star Family Advocacy Center. “It all seems like a good idea, right? But you gotta find the right dog; and at a lot of places, the dog will be trained for a year or two before you even get the dog. So we’re doing it in kind of the opposite direction.”
Lola spends most of her time at the office, with a few toys, a dog bed and the perfect amount of attention.
“We’re trying to socialize her as much as we can,” Reinhart said. “Formal training can’t start until they are 1 (year old) anyway and she just turned 1 a few months ago.”
In addition to having a dog around all week long, most of the people that walk through the doors of the center enjoy meeting Lola.
“She meets and greets just about everybody,” Reinhart said. “We have a process where we meet the people in the lobby when they come in.”
The team does make sure to check with families and other individuals before introducing Lola.
“I don’t think we have many families or kiddos that are afraid of dogs, but on the off chance that there is, that’s got to be (in) the screening process, because how horrible it would be if you introduced a dog and the kid was really afraid,” said Lona Lussier, family advocate. “We would never get anywhere.”
When you ask the North Star Family Advocacy Center team what Lola’s formal title is, to them she’s their “Super Dog.” With further training coming, the team does give Lola the professional title she serves.
“We refer to her as a therapy dog,” Reinhart said. “It’s not something we have to teach her, we just have to formally get the certification or title for her.”
Although Lola does not have her certificate yet, she has participated in two interviews since coming to the center. The first was by request.
“The child had met Lola, and we were really getting into a tough spot and the child asked if Lola could come in,” Dibeler said. “So at that point I said, ‘OK, well I’m just gonna go check on that,’ just to make sure law enforcement, county attorney and everyone was on board and got their blessing first and they said, go for it.”
Without question, the team received positive feedback about Lola after her first interview.
“When I was doing the trauma screening with the victim, he indicated that it was so much easier once the dog came into the room. He said it, I didn’t ask him any questions,” Lussier said.
There are complex situations that families, kids, and the team go through due to the nature of some cases, but Lola is the one to bring a little bit of light during those times.
“It’s such a nice distraction from the thought of having to go in and talk to a stranger about those things you’re going to talk about,” Lussier said. “That kind of starts the relaxation, and then by the time it’s time for Cassie to come out and get the kiddo, they have taken away a little bit of their anxiety.”
The center partners with surrounding counties, including Isanti, Pine, Chisago and Mille Lacs Band, as well as the FBI.
“They’ve (Isanti County officials) been very supportive, and in fact, Lola is always around for case review and Sheriff (Wayne) Seiberlich has also — I think since she’s (Lola) been here — has indicated they would like to get a dog as well,” Dibeler said.
The center can have up to four interviews in one day, putting the team through multiple strenuous conversations.
“To hear kids telling you things that they just shouldn’t even know, and then contextual detail about it: It’s our job to discover all corners of those narratives,” Reinhart said. “You know, it’s not easy.”
Not only does Lola provide therapy in a working environment, she also brings it to her teammates.
“To be clear: She’s just as much therapy for us as she is for other people,” Reinhart said. “When you think about it, there are certain things you can’t unsee, and certain things you can’t unhear. Definitely therapeutic for us as well.”
It’s safe to say that Lola has been of significant assistance, even before completing training.
“I come in to see the dog, not the staff,” Lussier joked.
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