Lisa Hamilton gave the brisk command and earned exactly the reaction she wanted.

“Let’s go to work!” she ordered, and the black-and-tan mixed breed stopped playing with a toy and raced to Hamilton's side.

Hamilton grabbed a bucket and a pair of gloves and began to cross the room with Zoey at her side.

Along the way, she dropped the gloves but just kept on walking.

Zoey pivoted to a stop, gently picked up the gloves in her mouth and returned them to Hamilton.

This was a practice run for Zoey, a Puppies for Parole graduate who could eventually become a well-trained companion.

She is a part of PHARM Dog USA, a nonprofit organization based in Albany, Missouri, that teaches dogs to help farmers with physical, cognitive or illness-related disabilities.

The dogs can help with farm tasks that range from managing livestock to recovering dropped tools, opening gates, carrying buckets and running for help when needed.

Helping farmers

Jackie Allenbrand started PHARM Dog USA more than a decade ago. She had met a man at a farm show who told her about his partial leg amputation and his border collie.

The disability didn't make his work on the farm impossible, he said, just much more to handle. But the border collie made life easier. If he stood at the gate and whistled, the collie would loop around the cattle and bring them in.

Allenbrand was inspired to take up the leash and look for other dogs that could be trained to help farmers who still wanted to care for their land.

PHARM Dog USA placed its first dog with a farmer in 2009, became a nonprofit in 2012, has placed dogs in Nebraska and Missouri and has farmers waiting for dogs in Oklahoma, Indiana, Kansas and Missouri.

Herding dogs — typically border collies — are in biggest demand, but Labradors or Lab mixes from rescues or shelters can also be trained as farm service animals. 

Farmers who qualify for a PHARM (Pets Helping Agriculture in Rural Missouri) dog might have arthritis, cancer, stroke, vision impairment, diabetes, serious injury, mental health concerns or another debilitating condition.

Service skills

Allenbrand, who lives in Gentry County, and a team of other trainers work with dogs on their respective farms. Although the trained PHARM dogs are equipped with service skills, it does not mean they are service dogs. That requires additional training, testing and certification.

The dogs are trained to meet the needs of farmers who have daily chores to attend to. That may include helping a farmer get in and out of a tractor,  manage his mobility on other equipment or fetch a rake or hammer.

PHARM Dog USA has also trained dogs to move chairs and open gates using a scrap of fabric for the dog to tug.

One quite important skill is bracing, which allows the dog to assist a farmer after a fall.

Hamilton demonstrated the skill by lying on the ground. Zoey raced over and stood by her side, still and rigid with her shoulders tense as Hamilton pushed her way back up.

Bracing can also be used with a harness that wraps around the dog's shoulder and chest with an added handle for maneuverability.

If a farmer needs to brace himself after a dizzy spell or a stumble, the dog can stand at attention and support him. 

On the farm

Sweet Baby Jo is a border collie trained by the program for Alda Owen, who is legally blind. When she met Sweet Baby Jo, the puppy was only 9 weeks old, and Owen was 60 and had just finished a battle with breast cancer.  

The collie quickly picked up on commands such as "sit" and "stay." As she got older, Sweet Baby Jo learned how to work sheep and, eventually, cattle.

Since Owen's vision is so limited, she lets the collie guide her through the day. The two are able to check the feeders and move cattle from paddock to paddock.

"She's there with me and helps get the job done," Owen said. "She's my friend, my partner.

"There's a lot of things I will never be able to do," she continued. "But she gives a helping hand and a second chance in being productive — in our own way."

Training dogs

In early November, two Newfoundland puppies bounded into the room at the Hundley-Whaley Research Center in Albany where Lisa Hamilton was working with Zoey. The puppies immediately began lunging for Zoey's toys.

Allenbrand and Hamilton took a moment to untangle the puppies, then divided the two between them.

“This is Duffy,” Allenbrand explained. “See the white on him? That means he’s a Landseer [Newfoundland]. I think people will pay attention to the markings. He’s going to be our new demonstration dog. ”

The other puppy, black as night except for a small splatter of white on his chest, sat calmly near Hamilton’s feet.

“This is Cash,” Hamilton said scratching the puppy's neck. “He will be going to help a farmer. He’s named after the Man in Black himself.”

A member of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association donated the two puppies after Allenbrand mentioned owning a Newfoundland years earlier, and said she wanted to try training one.

As the last slivers of daylight illuminated the nearby corn fields, Hamilton began walking the two puppies around.

While Duffy was lagging behind to wait for Allenbrand, Cash took the lead. He stopped at the edge of a cornfield to begin sniffing at the ground beneath his feet, and Duffy soon followed. Hamilton laughed.

“This is their first time in mowed grass,” she explained.

This was a good time for the puppies to play because, soon enough, they'll be needed to work.

  • Community reporter, fall 2019 Studying news editing Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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