We are Prairie Animal Assistance now, but when our program started in 1997, our name was Prairie Assistance Dogs Inc.
Why did we change our name?
Up until 2008, our charity was focused on helping improve the lives of people with disabilities by providing custom trained assistance dogs. Assistance dogs are allowed access into all public places and help people live more independent lives by doing tasks such as:
- Picking up dropped objects – anything from a coin to a heavy book
- Turning lights on and off
- Going for help
- Carrying objects in packs or by mouth
- Pulling on and off jackets, shoes and socks
- Pulling wheelchairs
- Pressing elevator buttons or doorknobs
- Putting money up on the counter at a store
- Assisting with laundry
- Alerting to medical conditions such as low blood sugar or an oncoming seizure
- Alerting to sounds for people who are hearing impaired
Please see our video Clicking with Rescue Dogs to watch some of the service dogs we trained in action.
Most of the assistance dogs we worked with were shelter rescues, so helping animals as well as helping people has always been part of our mandate. In 2008, our founder, Laurisa Osheski was finally able to achieve her dream of moving to the country, having her own horse and a dream home for the dogs complete with a huge pond, a heated indoor arena, and a 6 km dirt trail running alongside the property. In addition to service dog training, Prairie Assistance Dogs also did work training and rehabilitating shelter dogs, but on a small scale. Because we now had the space after moving to the country, we started helping out more rescue dogs with special needs and also started to work with rescue horses.
See our page about The Meat Auction for the story of the special horses who started the shift in focus of our charity.
See Saber’s Story for more information on how our work with cats started.
Later in 2008, we decided to shift the focus of Prairie Animal Assistance to better reflect the work we were now doing with the rescue animals. We do still work with service dogs, but on a much smaller scale.
Some True Stories About Training Assistance Dogs
I don’t think I will ever forget the day I was working with a service- dog- in- training at a local hospital and I met the mom of a girl I used to go to elementary school with. She was visiting her son who had recently been in an accident and it was still unknown what his recovery would be like. There was a definite possibility he would need to use a wheelchair. This lady was fascinated by the idea of service dogs and I took the time to show her all of the skills the dog I was with could do. As I was leaving, she asked me for my email address so that I could write down a list of all the commands I gave to the dog I had with me during the “demo”. She had a four month old Husky pup at home and needed the list so she could make sure to give the correct commands to the puppy so he could help her son. She wanted to try them right away. If only it were that easy….
As an assistance dog trainer, I ride around in a wheelchair to train the dogs.
I was over at the rehab center talking with a lady who had MS. I asked her what she would like a dog to do
for her. She replied: “I haven’t a clue. What can they do, anyway?”
“Oh,” I said, “They can do all sorts of marvelous things – pick things up, go get the phone, pull a wheelchair.
Here, I’ll show you.”
I jumped out of my wheelchair top demonstrate. She took one look at me and shouted: “Oh my God, my God. Your dog cured you. You can walk, you can really walk!”
I’m an assistance dog trainer, so a lot of the time I ride around in a wheelchair. I was busy training an assistance dog, Lady, a black sheltie, to push the door-opening-button in front of Wal-Mart.
The dog was working beautifully, paws up on the button. We were practising over and over and over. A very large lady walked over to us, pushed my dog out of the way, pulled the door open and said: “Here, go on in.”
“Well, actually,” I replied, “I’m just trying to train the dog to open the door for me.”
“What in the world for?” she asked. “I just opened it for you, didn’t I.”
———————————————————————————————————————————–I was busy working a German Shepherd in the park, trying to teach him to pull my wheelchair out of a rut.
It took me a while to find just the right spot, close to the path, not too deep so the dog wouldn’t be able to pull me out, but deep enough so that he would have to work to do it. I got the wheelchair positioned perfectly, hopped in, got the dog in position and . . .
Someone grabbed ahold of my chair from behind and shoved me and the dog back onto the path.
“Lucky for you I came along,” shouted the lawnmower driver as he hopped back onto his mower. “God only knows how long you might have been stuck there with that poor dog trying to pull you out.”
I was doing an assistance dog demonstration at the police station. For most of the audience this was something very new – most of them had never even heard of an assistance dog.
Things were running along smoothly. My service dog, Lady, a black sheltie, went and got my cell phone, picked up pennies and put them in a bank, took a $50 bill and put it on the counter. She went around behind my wheelchair, opened the zipper on my backpack, got out my inhaler and gave it to me.
I told them how Lady could recognize when I was about to have an asthma attack. When I coughed, it was her signal to go and find the backpack that I had hidden across the room.
Lady took off. She went behind all the guys and stayed there for an embarrassingly long time. When she came back, she had the police chief’s wallet,which he had left in his coat. I’m not even going to tell you the jokes they made about pickpockets and who they should arrest. Could they arrest a DOG?
This was my first experience working an assistance dog in a mall. We were making a video so naturally everyone was watching.
The dog, Riley, a golden retriever, was working nicely. He pulled socks off the rack, put them in the cart, heeled along beautifully beside my chair. When we got to the checkout I told him to put the socks on the counter. He did paws up. I asked the cashier to put the socks ina bag, fold the bag, and hand it to the dog.
“Find mine,” I commanded. Riley jumped up on the counter with his butt on the scanner, wagging his tail like crazy, with the package in his mouth. This wasn’t going quite how I planned. The videographer was filming from every angle there was. Everybody was staring. “Oops, sorry about that.”
“Off.” Riley jumped down. “Okay, can we try that again?” I asked the clerk. “Sure, fine with me,”she smiled. Actually, she was laughing. So was everybody else. Maybe I’ll just rethink this assistance dog training stuff, I thought. All right. We can do it.
We did. Three more times. Riley jumped on the counter THREE MORE TIMES. The clerk was looking just slightly annoyed. Okay, we have to get this shot. One more time. I finally figured it out. I was giving the wrong command. I wanted him to “paws up”. When I did my part right, Riley did his.
Guess what part of that video people like the best? The bloopers!