Victims Advocate Nancy Abila and her partner Lola, an Australian shepherd and service dog, are helping those in the community who struggle with emotional and mental illnesses to open up and begin the healing process.
“Lola was donated to Paws for LEOs by one of the top Australian shepherd breeders, Ray Schafer out of La Junta,” said Marianne Maes, CEO and founder of Paws for Law Enforcement Officers. Lola initially began training as a post-traumatic stress dog and a medical-response dog. If she had completed this training she would have gone into service with an injured police officer or first responder.
Maes found that the longer she and other trainers worked with Lola, the more it became apparent that the dog thrived around children.
“Lola was able to pick up emotional cues of children and show incredible compassion and empathy,” said Maes.
Throughout Lola’s training, she learned to enter public places such as grocery stores and restaurants. She later went through her TDI (Therapy Dog International) test, gaining approval to enter hospitals and schools. After three years of training, Paws for LEOs determined that Lola could best serve in a youth-oriented emotional-support role.
Abila met Lola through the Paws for LEOs program in February of this year, and they have been working together ever since. Lola goes everywhere with Abila. The training they receive is based on “one dog, one handler,” meaning all of Lola’s training and work will be alongside Abila. If Lola is to ever change owners, she will lose her certifications.
When Lola is at home, she gets to be a regular dog, playing and napping whenever she pleases.
“Australian shepherds are normally a hyper breed, but Lola is not,” said Abila. Taking care of Lola is an adventure in itself. She doesn’t like the cold, and she won’t get her paws dirty. “At home, she’s a diva,” said Abila, “It’s like having another kid.”
Lola is currently assisting the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s office in the juvenile diversion program,. where she offers emotional support to first-time offenders. Lola also visits schools where she works with youths under Abila’s caseload. Abila hopes to bring Lola into schools to work with all the students who struggle with mental health and disabilities.
For the time being, Lola is not trained to sit in the courtroom, but eventually, she and Abila will go through the training that allows Lola to be in court. Having a service dog in court comforts victims and helps support them when speaking about difficult subjects. Lola’s presence eases tension and makes a safe space for people to open up.