Youth-care facility trains service dogsSENTINEL BUTTE — Home on the Range where the deer and the antelope play… and dogs too? The Home on the Range residential youth-care facility near Beach has recently started an assistance dog training program to help individuals with disabilities.
By: Sean M. Soehren, The Dickinson Press
SENTINEL BUTTE — Home on the Range where the deer and the antelope play… and dogs too? The Home on the Range residential youth-care facility near Beach has recently started an assistance dog training program to help individuals with disabilities.
Home on the Range partnered with Great Plains Assistance Dogs Foundation, of Jud, to start a canine program in December.
The program is still in its infancy but Home on the Range Canine Assistance Program Coordinator Sarah Gubbels said the improvement to quality of life can already be noticed.
“The dogs give it a homey feel at the ranch,” she said. “Plus, it is a good responsibility lesson for the kids.”
The program includes eight male resident handlers, five female resident handlers and two 11-month-old black lab puppies named Maverick and Buster.
For a person to receive an assistance dog after training, the proposed recipient must submit a 30-page application with a 20-minute video describing the need for the dog. The cost is $15,000 per dog, but GPADF handler Chris Danielson said nobody is turned away.
“We are non-profit so we help do fundraisers or work with a payment plan,” he said. “The payment plan is for the working life of the dog, which usually averages eight years.”
The residents in the program are responsible for teaching the dogs the basic skills needed to assist individuals with mobility challenges, hearing impairment, seizures and other living disabilities. On Friday the dogs were working on opening doors and retrieving dropped items.
Residents are in charge of all the maintenance of the animals, including feeding, cleaning and training, which gives them an opportunity to improve responsibility, empathy and altruism, Gubbels said.
“The responsibility piece is huge,” she said. “They soon realize the responsibility of a dog is something where they have to put their own wants aside. Being selfless is a big part of that.”
A group of residents said it was more work than they expected, but one resident said the program has taught him a lot.
“The things I have gotten out of the program are how to control anger, how to handle responsibility, stress management, and the basics on how to train a dog,” the child who remains anonymous due to confidentiality said.
Home on the Range resident therapist Laura Feldman said the program has been successful because it is not as threatening as more traditional therapy methods.
“It is not sitting in an office eye to eye going through thinking errors,” she said. “This is hands on.”
Home on the Range Executive Director Jay Johnson said it is helpful to get troubled residents to open up and realize the benefits of selflessness.
“It makes our job a little easier when we are trying to get residents to accept help at the same time they are trying to do something that is going to help others,” he said.
The puppies will stay at the ranch for 12 to 18 months depending on their skill level and will be sent back to GPADF to complete specialized training. Each dog’s skills are matched by expert trainers for the precise needs of the recipient.
Danielson said the training received at the ranch is critical because there are only two experts who do the intensive training for 30 dogs.
“With them doing the basics it frees us up to do the final training,” he said.
The dogs stay in the residence halls at the ranch, but a larger kennel area is under construction that will house four dogs, with a fenced play area and bathing facilities.
GPADF executive director Joni Brandenburg said it has been a successful cooperation with Home on the Range.
“It has been a pleasure working with them,” she said. “It is just amazing what the dogs can do for them and what they do for the dogs.”