Caring canine: Noblesville-based crisis intervention center’s busiest employee is its service dog

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For more than seven years, one advocate at Prevail has had a special connection to thousands who use the services of the Noblesville-based nonprofit that aims to empower victims of crime and abuse.

Odle is a 9-year-old mix of a Labradoodle and golden doodle who spends his days comforting primarily children who are victims of crime or abuse.

Odle’s handler, Brittany Winebar, Prevail’s youth advocacy supervisor, has been with him since the beginning. Together, they work with kids who range in age from 4 to 17.

“We’re not a stickler on (age) numbers. It’s just about where they are developmentally,” Winebar said. “We support (kids) who experience all types of crime and abuse, just like all of our adult services. We served a little over 900 youth (in 2018), and what is typically true about our youth programming is that they stay in services longer, and they utilize more variety of services. We provide crisis intervention services for them, so we might meet them at the hospital or at our child advocacy center or might assist their legal parent or guardian in filing a protective order. On a more ongoing end, we might go through the court or judicial process with them.

“We also support them individually, working on safety planning and skill-building and really moving through that trauma experience. We also facilitate group programming for them. We do that on-site here, but we also, four our high school and middle schoolers, have support groups in the schools.”

In 2018, Odle sat in on 1,087 individual appointments and more than 500 support groups.

“Odle is our busiest advocate,” Winebar said. “When we look at numbers, across the board, he sees and interacts with the most people.”

Odle is a full-service dog who works with people from all walks of life.

“He has public-access rights for the purpose of work, so he goes to the school or to the prosecutor’s office or a child advocacy center, if that is needed or requested,” Winebar said.  “A typical day for him is sitting in on individual appointments, and he’s also going to at least one or two groups each day. He’s very intelligent and likes to be engaged. One of the reasons he came into a facility placement over an individual with a disability is because he really likes small birds and animals, which isn’t ideal if you’re strapped to someone’s wheelchair.

“He’s also very social, which again, isn’t ideal for an individual placement but is highly effective for us. He really is curious and wants to be able to meet everybody and wants to be a part of whatever is going on.”

Odle lives with Winebar, so his schedule is typically her schedule. Their vacation time is the same, and their days off are the same.

Odle turns 10 in November. The first 2-1/2 years of his life were spent training through the Indiana Canine Assistance Network and becoming certified through Assistance Dogs International before becoming an advocate at Prevail in March 2012.

“He knows about 30 different commands and has been taught American Sign Language for those commands because we have a number of clients who are hearing impaired, and their mode of communication is American Sign Language,” Winebar said. “We want everyone to be able to interact with him, and that’s been a super-positive experience. We call (his commands) behaviors, but the kids think they’re tricks because it’s fun to watch him turn the lights on and off. Either way, they have a multitude of purposes. Sometimes it is just for fun and comfort, and other times it’s about helping kids learn boundaries or about hygiene. For example, Odle has to get his hair and teeth brushed every day, and sometimes when clients have experienced trauma, they may not want to do those things because they may feel some disconnect with their body.

“We also use him for grounding because sometimes when kids are with us they get triggered or dis-regulated in their experience here, and we can use Odle as a tool to be able to help kind of bring them back to the here and now. So, we might ask, ‘What does his nose feel like?’ or, ‘When we pet him, how many ribs can we count?’”

Winebar said Odle is often seen as a mascot by kids who really encourages kids to decide to return to Prevail.

“Sometimes, it’s easier to talk about Odle’s dog family than it is to talk about what’s going on in their family,” Winebar said. “He’s a great projection tool.”

Animal Assistance

Brittany Winebar has worked at Prevail for 11 years and oversees the all of the nonprofit’s youth advocacy programming, in addition to being the primary handler for Odle, a full-service dog who has spent his life helping people.

“I did not see myself ever bringing animal-assisted intervention into this space, but I had gone to training (through) Courthouse Dogs (Foundation), and that’s how I learned about service animals in facility placements,” Winebar said. “Courthouse Dogs was training with (the Indiana Canine Assistance Network) and really trying to talk about what the options might be for facility animals in Indiana, and that’s how I heard about it. I went back and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, would it be so amazing if we had a dog that could go to court?’ It didn’t end up happening that way. Our judicial team here in the county was just not ready for that at this point in time, but it really was a blessing because it ended up allowing us to be able to use Odle in a lot of other capacities that I wasn’t event thinking about when we started that process. We really got the opportunity to explore what that looks like.”

The Indiana Canine Assistance Network is unique in that it uses inmates to train the dogs.

“So, for the handler who had Odle for nine months while (Odle) was at the Indiana Women’s Prison, it was a really cathartic experience for (the inmate) to have an animal that was going to go work with victims of crime,” Winebar said.

Winebar said her experience with Odle has opened her eyes to other animal opportunities. Today, Prevail also partners with Cicero-based Agape, which offers therapeutic horse riding services.

“When Agape approached us, I was much more keen to think about how animal-assisted interventions could help survivors of crime,” she said. “I’m a really big believer now in animal-assisted interventions and that sometimes they can teach us things that other humans can’t teach.”

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