Woodbury Welcomes First-Ever Therapy Dog

by | Jul 2024

Detective Adam Sack and Otis, a certified therapy dog.

Detective Adam Sack and Otis, a certified therapy dog. Photos: Jill Bauer

Otis is the face—err, paws—of the Community Support Team.

A naming contest chose the name of the Woodbury Department of Public Safety’s first-ever therapy dog. The winning name is Otis, which translates to “wealth” or “fortune” in its original German tongue. A deeper dive connects the name to setting oneself up for a life of comfort.

The English golden retriever and his handlers, Detective Adam Sack and Angie Shackleton, an embedded Washington County social worker, are part of the Department of Public Safety’s Community Support Team, a collaborative effort that focuses on situations involving mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness.

Otis, a certified therapy dog, is a point of contact. He comforts and calms—in short, he does what he’s been trained to do. Shackleton, a licensed clinical social worker, can also be that first point of contact. She does case management and connects community members to resources. Shackleton had worked as a child protection social worker. She was also a Washington County Crisis Response Unit responder.

In 2023, the Community Support Team responded to 127 in-progress 911 calls. Otis and Sack were deployed to in-progress and follow-up calls 68 times.

Otis is specially trained to provide comfort by giving emotional support.

Otis is specially trained to provide comfort by giving emotional support.

The City’s Growth

Public safety director and police chief Jason Posel says mental health issues are part of a growing and evolving community. “The last time Public Safety did a remodel was 2012,” Posel says. “Woodbury has added 20,000 people since then.”

Public Safety has evolved as Woodbury has evolved. The Community Support Team and Community Impact Unit are examples of that evolution. While the Community Support Team focuses on mental health issues, the Community Impact Unit is a data-driven effort, focusing on criminal detection and intervention through use of technology. It also works closely with other law enforcement entities.

Although the issue of mental health plays the national stage, its impacts can be hyperlocal. “Situations and family dynamics are unique,” Posel says. “It’s why you need to work at an individual level.

“While these aren’t just immediate issues, they can be,” Posel says. “You want to get upstream, before they impact the community and before they result in emergency calls.”

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And while Otis isn’t the answer, neither is the Community Support Team—at least not by themselves.

“They can be a conduit to conversation,” Posel says. “That’s a start.” Trust will always be a part of that start. “Every interaction is an opportunity to build trust and relationships,” Posel says. “Our community knows that.”

Posel adds that the community has been very supportive of its Public Safety Department. As an example, he says the Woodbury Police K-9 Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds for the Woodbury Police Department’s K-9 team, supports the department’s dogs, Otis included. Aside from therapy dog Otis, the three other dogs are dual-trained as narcotic and patrol dogs.

To learn more about Woodbury’s Public Safety initiatives, visit woodburymn.gov.

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