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Therapeutic dog to join forces with Hastings PD and Lewis House

A new initiative at 360 Communities is about to provide a new way to support survivors of abuse: a new therapeutic dog. "Ranger" is a victim support dog that is currently being trained by Pawsitive Perspectives Assistance Dogs (PawPADS) to respond to traumatic events.

Ann Sheridan, the director of violence prevention at 360 Communities, said Ranger will work collaboratively with outreach advocates in the 360 Communities as well as local law enforcement. Although Ranger and his handler, Stacie Burke, will be based at the Apple Valley Police Department, he will be available to victims in the Hastings area when needed.

Hastings Chief of Police Bryan Schafer said he thinks having a therapeutic dog is a great concept and he is excited to see how effective the program is and how the concept will grow. He said he visualizes Ranger working with the police department in domestic situations where there has been a lot of trauma in the household.

"(Having Ranger) takes away some of that (police) authority and it helps bring a set of services into a household where it's a little bit more relaxed, more calming," Schafer said.

Sheridan said therapeutic dogs have been shown to reduce blood pressure and bring comfort to victims of trauma. In addition to being utilized in domestic situations, Sheridan said Ranger will also work in the Dakota County court system. He will follow a victim into the courts for emotional support.

Stephanie Boehmer is the outreach advocate for 360 Communities based out of the Hastings Police Department. She said she is looking forward to working with Ranger for some of her clients. She said some victims of abuse going through the court process can feel intimidated or feel a lot of anxiety; Ranger could help them with those feelings.

"I think Ranger would probably give people more courage and comfort to be able to participate (in the court process) the way they want to," Boehmer said.

At 5 years old, Ranger already has experience providing comfort to survivors in the aftermath of traumatic events, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He is now going through additional training to become a support dog for victims of domestic abuse or sexual abuse.

Ranger has already been exposed to law enforcement in uniform and sirens and has responded well.

"So far so good, and the next step will be to make sure that he can behave in court," Sheridan said.

Sheridan said Ranger will have at least two weeks of solid training, including a week at PawPADS, and then in the field training. If everything goes as planned, Sheridan said she hopes to have Ranger ready for work in the community starting January 2017.

The final piece to the puzzle of incorporating Ranger is raising money. Sheridan said Ranger is not funded through the Office of Justice Programs as 360 Communities is, because there hasn't been a program like this before. The only way to fund this new way of supporting victims is through raised funds.

Sheridan's goal is to raise $9,500 in the first year, which will hopefully allow some room to carry money over into the next year.

"This is our first time, so I just want to make sure we have a lot of cushion room for Ranger because I don't want to get him one year and not have him for the following year," Sheridan said.

Sheridan said they are more than a third of the way to reaching the goal, but there is still a ways to go. To contribute to 360 Communities, community members can go to www.360communities.org/donate-to-360-communities and fill out the donation form. To specifically contribute to Ranger, select "Ranger's Fund" in the form's drop down menu.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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