To serve and protect: NobleAct therapy dog is instrumental in deescalating situations, providing comfort

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Luna displays the command snuggle with Mikayla Shaw.

The NobleAct program has a new officer, but she doesn’t wear a bulletproof vest. Instead, she wears a vest emblazoned with the words “therapy dog.”

Luna, a 1-year-old black Labrador retriever, joined NobleAct in February. A combined program of the Noblesville police and fire departments, NobleAct provides specialized crisis response to individuals struggling during a mental health or situational crisis.

Noblesville Police Dept. Officer Ben Lugar, Luna’s handler, helped launch the NobleAct program in 2020. After researching similar programs cross nation, Lugar noted the impact therapy dogs had on most.

“We recognized as a city that our traditional methods of police and fire response aren’t necessarily providing the full holistic care,” Lugar said. “NobleAct comes in to address those needs and ensuring we don’t have to have another crisis moment. As I was working through (NobleAct), we identified that it is amazing how powerful dogs are.

“I saw therapy dogs deployed across the country for critical incidents and crisis situations, and it sparked the department’s journey to getting Luna. Now, she responds to all the calls I go on.”

In the three months since Luna joined the program, she has assisted Lugar on more than 40 calls

“She brings the temperature of the room down a little bit so we can start talking (with the patient) about the resources that are needed,” Lugar said. “I could not do my job now without her. It is amazing to see her in action. It has made my job so much more effective for our community members. I love the fact I become invisible, and the people in crisis will talk to Luna as if she’s a person. They tell her things they maybe wouldn’t feel comfortable telling me. All that information is used to help get them those resources they are looking for.”

During a recent call, Lugar said Luna helped deescalate a situation of a woman struggling with a mental health crisis.

“Last month, we got a 911 call of a female threatening suicide,” Lugar said. “This is somebody that has had a lot of police interactions for her mental health, and she is typically pretty fearful of law enforcement and becomes agitated when police or EMS show up. Luna and I showed up and she instantly forgot police were on the scene. She solely started looking and talking to Luna. She started petting Luna and was no longer in crisis-thinking mode without us having to take her to the hospital or use force to ensure she was safe.”

Luna also assists Lugar, a former school resource officer, on calls to the Noblesville Schools district.

“We responded to one of the schools who had a kiddo (run away) and, right as teachers and staff got the child, Luna came up and the kid’s emotions came back down enough to come back inside,” Lugar said.

Luna has proved so successful that the fire department side of NobleAct plans to add a therapy dog in October. The dog, a male English Labrador, named Carbon, was donated by the same family that donated Luna to NobleAct. No cost is acquired by the police or fire departments for either therapy dog.

Noblesville Fire Dept. Division Chief Trevor Hash said Carbon is undergoing training and will be trained just as Luna is.

“He will perform the same function as Luna, it gives us a second dog,” he said. “The primary function is for NobleAct, but it also gives us the ability to use him for prevention things like when we partner up with the elementary schools for fire safety.”

Lugar said the fire department’s therapy dog will be equipped to come on scenes where someone is suffering a cardiac arrest or other traumatic event and provide comfort and care to the people close to the patient. The dog also will be used for fire safety programs for school-aged children.

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Luna displays the command knuckles with handler Officer Ben Lugar.

Luna’s commands

NobleAct therapy dog Luna knows the commands knuckles, visit and snuggle, all of which she uses to help NobleAct Officer Ben Lugar do his job better. Lugar said Luna is equipped to provide emotional regulation.

Knuckles is Lugar’s way of introducing Luna to people in need. When a person puts out their fist and says “knuckles,” Luna gives them what Lugar calls “a fist bump.” Visit is a command where Luna will come up alongside a person and lay her head in their lap. Snuggle is a command where Luna will jump across the person’s lap and act more enthusiastically, such as licking the person’s face.

The fire department’s therapy dog is being trained in similar commands.