Specially trained dogs help farmers with disabilities Alda Owen pets her farm service dog Sweet Baby Jo after moving cattle on her farm near Maysville, Mo., Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015. Operating in only four Midwestern states, PHARM Dog USA, or Pets Helping Agriculture in rural Missouri, has placed 10 dogs since 2009 and has two more in training. The nonprofit, believed to be the only one of its kind in the United States, trains dogs specifically for farmers with disabilities. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Specially trained dogs help farmers with disabilities
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The demanding daily chores of a farmer were always a little different for Alda Owen. She is legally blind, able to see some blurry shapes and very close objects but not much else.
 
It was like that for years on the 260-acre farm she shares with her husband in northwest Missouri. That was until a bull knocked a gate into her. The injury required 60 stitches in her left leg. Owen's daughter decided her proud mother needed a helping hand. Or in this case, a wagging tail. Help came in the form of Sweet Baby Jo, a friendly, energetic border collie. The dog helps control the couple's Angus cattle.
 
The pairing was made possible through a nonprofit. It is believed to be the only one of its kind in the United States. The organization trains dogs specifically for farmers with disabilities. Operating in only four Midwestern states, PHARM Dog USA, or Pets Helping Agriculture in Rural Missouri, has placed 10 dogs since 2009. It has two more in training.
 
"She's made it possible for me to be a productive person, to keep the life we've built," Owen said of the dog, which she received in 2012.
 
PHARM Dog USA has a shoestring budget. But founder Jackie Allenbrand is committed to help disabled farmers prove they can be as independent as their able-bodied peers.
 
"People think of farmers as rugged and tough," Allenbrand said. "When you see a big, burly farmer crying after they get a dog because they know they can keep farming, you see what a difference it's making. That's what drives us."
 
PHARM Dog USA trains Labrador retrievers and lab mixes for service skills. The dogs retrieve tools, carry buckets or open gates. Border collies are trained only to herd and help control cattle and other animals. The farmers never pay for the dogs. The animals are donated or rescued from shelters. Agriculture rehabilitation groups pay for the training. PHARM Dog also has received some grants. It gets dog food donated by Cargill Nutrition.
 
It takes about a year to determine if a dog has the intelligence and temperament to be a service dog. That's according to Bobby Miller, a Plattsburg, Missouri, rancher. He trains border collies, including Sweet Baby Jo. The biggest challenge is matching a farmer's specific needs with the right dog, said Don McKay. He is an Iowa farmer who trains border collies.
 
"Dogs have different abilities, just like people," he said, adding that the first days can be bumpy but that most matches work out once the dog and farmer improve their communication.
 
The emotional support is as important as the work Sweet Baby Jo does, Owen said. Now 62, Owen spent most of her life hiding her disability and staying within a small comfort zone. Since she got Sweet Baby Jo, Owen has started traveling and speaking at panels about farmers with disabilities.
 
"It gave me back my self-esteem and pride," Owen said.
 
Troy Balderston has been in a wheelchair since a car accident in 2010 left him a quadriplegic. He said he wouldn't be able to work on a feedlot in Norton, Kansas, or live on his farm near Beaver City, Nebraska, without Duke. That is his border collie. Duke was provided by PHARM Dog and trained by McKay.
 
"Duke keeps me safe. He keeps the cattle from running me over," Balderston said. "He goes everywhere I go. He's a great worker and a great companion."
 
PHARM Dog USA has had inquiries from farmers in several other states, including New York, Colorado and Mississippi. But Allenbrand said it isn't yet financially possible to meet those needs. She hopes to someday have corporate sponsorship to expand the effort because, "there are farmers all over the country who need this service," she said. "It's important that we help them."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why did "PHARM Dog USA" choose this name?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (94)
  • Jason0421-YYCA
    9/16/2015 - 08:14 p.m.

    I think that it is great for Alda Owen to be able to have an assistant dog for walking and helping out the farm. I think that assistant dogs are amazing because assistant dogs allow you to do almost everything the same except for seeing. I believe that Alda Owen made a good choice in finding and taking care of an assistant dog.

  • darianv-3-bar
    9/16/2015 - 08:20 p.m.

    In the beginning to mid section of the article, it stated that PHARM Dog USA stands for "Pets helping agriculture in rural Missouri." They probably chose this name because it sounds like "Farm dog" when you say it and because they are pets working on farms in the midwestern states. Also, rural Missouri might be their headquarters.
    I think it is awesome how they train dogs to move cattle and help around the farm ecspecialy for people with disabilities. It didn't surprise me that much because dogs have always been loving to people and have always helped people.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    9/17/2015 - 12:42 a.m.

    I think that it is cool for dogs to be working with farmers who are blind during their farming times but I saw this similar article which is the same thing as this one which is in Newsela which is in the science section. Dogs are helpers of the farmers because they help the farmers do the things that the farmer needs to do to help the farmer that are working in the farm.

  • jadaj-
    9/17/2015 - 01:19 p.m.

    the PHARM Dog USA choose this name because its for people that cant see and they train the dogs to help other people that cant see so that person cant get hurt.

  • ians-1-kru
    9/17/2015 - 05:19 p.m.

    Awwww they're so cute! This emoticon is like their soft little face! (???)

  • maggiec-3-bar
    9/17/2015 - 09:47 p.m.

    PHARM Dog USA chose its name because its a program where dogs help people with disabilities, such as farmers who are blind and need help with work. Alda Owen, who runs a farm in Missouri, is legally blind. The company PHARM Dog USA decided to help her out by giving her an energetic border collie to help her out around the farm. I think this program is an amazing thing. It's great to know that there are people out there who really want to help other people in need. I hope this program helps a lot of other people around the world.

  • faithg-1-gau
    9/17/2015 - 10:06 p.m.

    PHARM Dog USA is the name of this organization because it helps farmers in the US. PHARM was their way of putting a fun twist on farm and the animals that are trained are dogs.

  • taylorp-1-bar
    9/18/2015 - 12:09 a.m.

    PHARM Dog USA chose this name because it stands for Pets Helping Agriculture in Rural Missouri, and because the acronym PHARM also sounds like "farm", which is appropriate because the dogs are helping people in a farm. My opinion of this article was that it was very considerate and sweet that people actually thought of the farmers that needed help.

  • summerc-1-bar
    9/18/2015 - 12:23 a.m.

    "PHARM Dog USA" chose this name because pets help out with farmers who have disabilities, and it sounds like the word "farm". I think it's cool that there are trained dogs to help with the farmers.

  • kaleal-2-bar
    9/18/2015 - 01:15 a.m.

    The article states that "PHARM" stands for "pets helping agriculture in rural Missouri". But, coincidentally, it also is pronounced like "farm" when the abbreviations are read as a word. I think that they chose this name because the company provides dogs to farmers in need of help, and since it is all about farms, then it makes sense to come up with a name such as this. This is a very neat idea and I hope that it becomes more popular.

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