A New "PHARM" Hand: An Interview with Jackie Allenbrand of PHARM Dog USA
When a farmer is confronted with an illness or injury, his or her life and farming operation can take a huge hit. The financial consequences can be huge, but, often, the emotional side effects are most devastating. Aware of the difficulties faced by injured and ill farmers, Jackie Allenbrand took it upon herself to help these individuals by bringing “four-legged ranch hands” into their lives.
Allenbrand, a Missouri farmer, founded the nonprofit Pets Helping Agriculture in Rural Missouri (PHARM Dog USA) in 2005 as a program to train dogs to complete farm tasks for farmers in need. Allenbrand has always loved dogs and enjoyed training them, so when the opportunity arose to specifically train dogs for farmers’ individual needs, she was eager to provide this service.
The People and Dogs behind PHARM Dog
Allenbrand currently serves as PHARM Dog’s director and is also involved with other areas of the program such as training, public relations, and marketing. The program also includes two Border Collie trainers. One of the trainers lives in Missouri and focuses on training dogs for work with goats and sheep, and the other trainer lives in Iowa and focuses on training for work with cattle. These individuals are also farmers and are passionate about giving their time to help fellow agriculturists.
Usually, the two Border Collie trainers breed and raise their own dogs and then donate them to PHARM Dog. While most of the dogs used for the program are Border Collies, they have also used rescued Labradors or Labrador mixes for the service side of the program in the past. The most important characteristics of the dogs are an even temperament and a strong drive to perform well and follow commands.
All of the dogs in the program must learn basic obedience and pass the Canine Good Citizen Test. Intensive training starts when the dogs are about one year old and less likely to get injured. It takes one to two years to prepare each dog for life on the farm, as Allenbrand and her team specifically train to meet each farmer’s individual needs.
“Farm use is somewhat different than dogs used in town or the city,” said Allenbrand. “There is more land to cover and more distractions.”
PHARM Dog receives requests for Border Collies most often because farmers who have livestock may need an assistant. PHARM Dog must train the dog to work around the livestock, get the livestock used to the dog, and teach the farmer the commands necessary to work with his or her new dog. Herding dogs are a work in progress and tend to pick up on the things that the farmer needs over time, according to Allenbrand.
“I had one farmer say he couldn’t remember all the commands, so he just waved his hand,” said Allenbrand. “His dog knew what he wanted because they had bonded and the Border Collie had adjusted to the farmer’s needs.”
PHARM Dog also trains the dogs to perform services that meet each farmer’s needs. The dogs can be taught to carry buckets, retrieve tools, open gates, and complete other tasks around the farm. Additionally, the dogs used in the program can also serve as pets at the end of the day when the work is done.
“The Border Collies are working dogs that herd, but then they are a pet when their work is done,” said Allenbrand. “Dogs trained with service skills do their jobs when the farmer is working, but then, many times, the dogs are released from their duties and play with the kids in the yard or play fetch for fun on the farm.”
Benefitting from a PHARM Dog
In 2009, PHARM Dog placed their first dog with a farmer in need. Since then, the organization has placed 13 other dogs with farmers and currently has several others in training.
People hear about PHARM Dog and their services in a variety of ways. The organization has a website that contains contact information and submission forms to ask questions. They are also active on Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, the PHARM Dog team travels to farm shows, fairs, and other events to do speaking presentations. They have also been featured in the media through local newspapers and radio and TV stations in the areas where dogs are placed, and they were even on the NBC national news with Tamron Hall.
In order to receive a dog from PHARM Dog, a person must be a farmer or a farm family member who is actively involved with the farming operation and is dealing with an injury or illness. PHARM Dog views these people as being in need of a “four-legged farmhand."
The dogs serve as an assistant and are able to complete tasks that, otherwise, would not be completed.
“I’ve had a farmer say he would have had to give up his cattle if it wasn’t for the help of a dog,” said Allenbrand.
While the dogs’ biggest jobs are to assist the farmers with physical tasks, they also benefit farmers emotionally. Allenbrand recalled several farmers who told her that their dog is the reason they get up in the morning because they know that it is depending on them. Farmers feel a new sense of purpose when they are working with their dogs and are able to continue operating their farms.
“One farmer with a Traumatic Brain Injury hadn’t been on a vacation in four years due to his accident,” said Allenbrand. “His dog trained for mobility use made him get out, and two months after he received his dog, he took a trip to Vegas and his PHARM Dog took his first ride on a plane.”
During her time with PHARM Dog, Allenbrand has been surprised by how the dogs help farmers become more social and open up to others. One PHARM Dog farmer who is legally blind said that she always hid her disability and felt as though she faded away in the background. Receiving a dog has enabled her to travel with her husband and Allenbrand to a variety of events where she has spoken about how she uses her Border Collie on her farm. She told Allenbrand that, without the dog, she never would’ve had the
confidence to do that.
Allenbrand hopes to see PHARM Dog continue to grow and provide dogs for more farmers in the future. One day, she thinks the organization may franchise in order to cover a larger geographic area. She also would like to find a training center where she and the other trainers can train the dogs. Above all, Allenbrand hopes to be able to continue helping fellow farmers to “heel and heal.”
For more information about PHARM Dog USA, visit their website.