One of the most helpful farmhands on Alda Owen’s 260-acre property in Maysville, Mo., has four legs.
Sweet Baby Jo, a Border Collie, is an expert at rounding up cattle. This is especially handy since Owen is legally blind and can only clearly see objects close at hand.
“She’s made it possible for me to be a productive person, to keep the life we’ve built,” Owen told the Associated Press.
Troy Balderston, who became a quadriplegic after a 2010 car accident, has a Border Collie named Duke to thank for helping him continue to work on a feedlot in Norton, Kansas.
“Duke keeps me safe, he keeps the cattle from running me over,” Balderston told the AP. “He goes everywhere I go. He’s a great worker and a great companion.”
Bruce Trammell suffered a brain injury in 2008. His yellow Lab, Odie, helps him with his chores on his Missouri farm.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Trammell told the Mizzou Weekly when Odie arrived in 2012. “Not only is he going to be my buddy, but he’s going to be my right hand and stabilize me [from falling] so I can do the things I need to do.”
Sweet Baby Jo, Duke and Odie were provided to these farmers free of charge by the nonprofit organization P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA. (PHARM stands for Pets Helping Agriculture in Rural Missouri.)
The organization’s mission is to “train dogs to assist farmers with a disability or a disease that need the help of a four-legged farmhand to help them remain active and independent on their farm operations,” according to its website.
P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA was created by Jackie Allenbrand, who formerly worked for the University of Missouri AgrAbility program, and it became a 501c3 organization in 2012. It has matched 10 dogs with farmers in four Midwestern states.
“People think of farmers as rugged and tough,” Allenbrand told the AP. “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.”
P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA trains both herding and service dogs to help farmers with disabilities. Border Collies are trained to herd and control animals (I’m guessing not a whole lot of training is required), while Labradors and Lab mixes learn to perform chores like fetching tools and carrying buckets.
It can be a challenge to match a dog’s skills with what a farmer requires, P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA trainer Don McKay, who is also a farmer, told the AP. He said it sometimes takes a few days for the dog and farmer to get in sync.
The dogs in the program are donated or rescued from shelters. The funds to train them are provided by agriculture rehabilitation groups and some grants. Cargill Nutrition donates food for the trainees.
Allenbrand told the AP she’s been getting requests from farmers across the country for service dogs, but currently doesn’t have the budget to provide them. She hopes to eventually get corporate sponsorships.
“There are farmers all over the country who need this service,” she told the AP. “It’s important that we help them.”
To make a donation to P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA, click here.