KINGSTON, Mo. – He’s a different kind of dog for a different sort of farmer.
Bruce Trammell hopes that dog soon will help him get up to speed on his farm.
Thanks to PHARM Dog, the brainchild of University of Missouri Extension AgrAbility specialist Jackie Allenbrand, Trammell now has Odie, a yellow Labrador retriever whose job is to help the farmer regain his independence despite his disability.
“It’s like a dream come true. It’s gonna change my whole life,” Trammell said. “What he’s gonna be able to do for me is just incredible because not only is he gonna be my friend and my buddy and go everywhere with me, but he’s also gonna be my right hand and stabilize me so I can do the things I need to do.”
PHARM (Pets Helping Agriculture in Rural Missouri) Dog brought the pair together. The program is part of MU Extension’s AgrAbility Project, which works with injured and disabled farm workers who want to remain in agriculture. PHARM Dog trains dogs for farm-specific tasks such as retrieving tools, opening gates, herding livestock or providing balance for farmers.
“Even though you’ve had an injury or a disease—you know, a lot of times people are told to give up and find another occupation—there are ways to stay on the farm and be independent, in a safe way,” Allenbrand said. “That’s kind of a pride thing for farmers who love the land and want to stay on it.”
Four years ago Trammell was struck in the back of the head with a track hoe at his railroad job. His injuries left him with severe ringing in his ear, migraines and balance issues that lead to sudden falls.
At times he used a cane or a walker, but those limited his abilities and his unpredictable balance still led him to fall often. Trammell’s arms show the scars from those falls that made his wife afraid to leave him alone.
“I usually fall straight back, but during the summer my whole arms were wrapped up in gauze because they were just solid cuts from my falls,” he said. “Without the dog, I’m very limited in what I can do. I’ve fallen down the steps in my house, I’ve fallen out here… I’ve fallen just about everywhere. And, you know, having him with me, at least I can get back up.”
Odie wears a harness with an extended handle that Trammell can grasp to help with balance. Trammell also points a green laser beam to direct the dog to fetch gardening tools or even five-gallon buckets to use when growing vegetables in his high tunnel.
If a fall occurs, dogs like Odie will remain with their owner to help them get up, and bark to alert others.
With a little training, Odie will be an invaluable asset for Trammell.
“When he was placed with Odie, you could see his posture change,” Allenbrand said. “He was standing more upright, with more confidence. Odie is not only a tool, a working, four-legged farmhand, he’s also a good companion.”
Trammell is grateful for both.
“I hope I’m going to get a cab for my tractor so that he can be with me on the tractor, and, you know, he’s even going to church with me on Sunday,” he said. “I’m glad that I got him. I just feel very, very blessed.”
MU Extension partners with MERIL, an independent-living organization in northwestern Missouri, to administer AgrAbility. The PHARM Dog project is made possible through donations, which go toward the nearly $5,000 cost of training each dog for a farmer’s specific needs. There is a waiting list and staff is limited, but with time PHARM Dog hopes to help other farmers in need.
Find out more about PHARM Dog from Jackie Allenbrand at 816-279-8558, ext. 1026, or at [email protected]. To donate to the cause, send checks to P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA Inc., care of Bank Northwest, 217 E. Main Street, Stanberry, MO 64489.