Training dogs is nothing new, and service dogs have been around many years. However, training dogs to become ‘four-legged farm hands’ is now making all the difference when it comes to keeping disabled farmers active on their farms.
P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA, Pets Helping Agriculture in Rural Missouri, is the brainchild of Jackie Allenbrand of Albany. The organization’s goal is to make life easier for farmers and farm family members with physical, cognitive or illness-related disabilities.
She created the program in 2005 while working with Missouri AgrAbility. P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA functioned alongside AgrAbility and Midland Empire Resources for Independent Living (MERIL) for until she made it a freestanding nonprofit program in 2012.
While Allenbrand was researching ways to make her project work, she came across a woman named Pamela Osborn in Easton whose husband Merlin had used a service dog in the past. He wanted another dog, as his first one saved him time and energy. Merlin passed away and never got his next dog.
Osborn came to Allenbrand in 2009 wishing to purchase a dog in honor of her husband.
“I had heard of trainer Bobby Miller down in Plattsburg, so we met with him, and he showed us a dog and what it could do with livestock,” Allenbrand said. “We went to metal shed where he hosts cowboy church and explained program to him.”
She said Miller called the next day and told her they must have had meeting in the right place. He decided would like to donate the dogs, training and time to the program.
That year Allenbrand placed her first dog in Nodaway County. Parnell-area farmer Dennis Schmitz had a farm accident involving a PTO shaft and suffered severe injuries. Schmitz needed a collie to help with cattle and sheep, and was able to benefit from a herding dog. He now speaks to farm youth about the importance of farm safety and about his P.H.A.R.M. Dog experience.
Allenbrand focuses on both service and herding dogs and has placed a total of 10 dogs since 2009.
“I feel a sense of giving back to someone, of helping people,” she said. “That’s what we’re all here for is the help each other. When we as trainers help place dog with farmer, they get emotional and thank us. It’s then that we know we’ve made an impact on their lives to help them on the farm longer and stay active and independent.”
She is especially proud of farmer Bruce Trammel, whom she calls her ‘walking billboard.’ This Kingston farmer had traumatic brain injury when he was hit in back of head with backhoe.
“We placed service lab Odie with Bruce, who was walking with walker and fell a lot,” Allenbrand said. “He now wears a harness, and his dog counter-balances him and retrieves tools that Bruce leaves lying around.”
Odie is trained to retrieve items that Trammel shines a laser on. Since Trammel has been undergoing cancer treatments, Odie has remained by his side.
“Odie offers more than physical help, he is emotional help too,” she said. “Doctors even noticed a difference in his posture and mobility with Odie around.”
While physical assistance is the main reason for the dog, that isn’t the only benefit Allenbrand sees.
“These dogs provide both physical and emotional help,” she said. “These animals are companions and they give their owners reasons to get up, feed and walk them.”
Border collies make great herding dogs and help farmers manage their livestock.
“Bobby Miller in Plattsburg works mainly on the goat and sheep side of things,” Allenbrand said. “And then we’ve got Don McKay in Packwood, Iowa who works with cattle dogs.”
Dogs that provide service skills, primarily labs or lab mixes, can be trained to do a variety of helpful tasks such as retrieving or picking up dropped tools, opening a latch gate system, carrying buckets, as well as standing and bracing if a farmer has stability issues, or going for help.
Allenbrand obtains service skill dogs from the Greater Dayton Labrador Retriever Rescue in Dayton, Ohio.This rescue shelter has qualified staff that train the dogs in basic obedience and service skills. Local trainer Elaine Wallace also helps with training when more local assistance is needed.
Once the dogs are ready, the trainers then work with the farmers for an appropriate time period so the dog and farmer can become familiar with one another.
Here in Missouri, Allenbrand determines the needs of prospective clients, makes farm assessments, and facilitates placement of the dogs and continued training for the dogs and their new owners.
The program’s services are not limited to Missouri. In 2013 a service dog was placed on the Nebraska-Kansas line, when a farmer was paralyzed from the chest down in an accident. A homeless border collie was reported to Allenbrand, who took the dog to the trainer to help the farmer. Duke now helps his owner sort cattle and put them into pens.
P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA runs on small grants and donations, and Allenbrand constantly looks program funding and sponsorships. This program is the first of its kind nationwide, so funding and publicity can be hard to come by.
“It’s been a slow process, because of our lack of funding,” she said. “This is more of a heart project than it is one to make a bunch of money.”
She does receive donations from a variety of businesses. For example, Cargill provides dog food for trainers, start farmers off with a few bags of food.
Service dogs do come at a cost, which varies depending on skills. If a person can’t afford a dog or is working with vocational rehabilitation, she will work with them to come up with fundraising ideas.
“I’d love to place these dogs for free all the time, but unfortunately it can’t always work that way,” she said.
P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA has recently been featured in Out Here magazine in Tractor Supply stores across the country. The article features Alda Owen from Dekalb County with a border collie. Owen is legally blind and has gone through breast cancer, but her dog, Sweet Baby Joe, has been trained to allow Owen to help in creative ways on her family farm.
The program has also been featured in Missouri Ruralist and Country Woman. Allenbrand updates www.pharmdog.org when new pairings are made.
“Moving forward, my goals are to find consistent funding, place more dogs, and get the word out so that more people know about the service,” Allenbrand said.
She already has possible clients waiting on calls about mobility dogs.
Another goal is to make it to more big venues. Allenbrand went to the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia and Husker Harvest Days in Nebraska this year to speak to farm families about her project. Fundraising is key to making these trips happen.