Off The Beaten Path: Canine Caretakers | VideoCliff Naylor | 7/8/2012
There aren`t a lot of distractions in a town with a population of 70. That`s one of the reasons why Jud, North Dakota, was chosen as the site for a world class service dog training academy. This remote location on 10 acres of land helps puppies and their future owners concentrate on some very advanced instructional exercises.
Christine Henderson is training Bella to sound an alert when nine-year old Melodie Lee has a seizure.
"I don`t know where I am or what I`m doing and then I faint to the ground and it kind`a looks scary when I first faint," Melodie said.
Melodie`s mother, Christelle Hutin-Lee brought her all the way from San Francisco to North Dakota to get a dog that would provide continual care for daughter.
"The dog will be with her 24/7. It will go to school with her, it will go everywhere she goes. It will sleep with her at night, it will be her guardian angel."
Bella`s lessons on the how to protect Melodie are like a walk in the park.
"We make everything fun, we play. Tug of war turns into opening a door, retrieving a water bottle," Henderson said. "We`ll let them tug on a stuffed animal for starters and then we`ll tie the stuffed animal to a fridge door and all of a sudden they`re pulling open a fridge door and they didn`t know they were doing work, they were playing a game."
The Great Plains Assistance Dogs Foundation breeds its own students and at any given time there are around 30 puppies in training. Someday all of them will be placed with someone who has a disability.
"It`s a very rewarding job. When you see someone come get a dog that they can actually carry on with their life, live more independently, it`s very satisfying," said Executive Director Joni Bradenburg.
After only a week of training together, Bella already has learned how to sound an alert if Melodie has a seizure.
Training an emergency medical response dog like Bella takes two years, including three weeks of on-site supervised training with the recipient. The cost for a highly trained dog like Bella is around $15,000.
Volunteers who clean kennels, feed and exercise dogs reduce training costs. Grants and fundraising also help reduce expenses, but Melodie and her mother can`t put a price on the peace of mind dogs like Bella provide.
For more information on the Great Plains Assistance Dogs Foundation, visit their website at servicedogsforamerica.com.