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Service dogs help kids get through physical therapyFebruary 24, 2015
(Idaho)- 3-year-old Naomi Monson's face lights up when she comes to her therapy sessions at STARS Pediatric Physical Therapy in Meridian.
Service dog "Prairie" is the reason behind her excitement.
For the last several years, canine modality specialist Diane Rampelberg has volunteered with her service dogs, helping thousands of kids.
"Dustin's Paw is an organization that I started," said Diane. "The idea was it's a non profit that allows the dogs and I to work with special children."
Diane and her service dogs help kids with disabilities get through therapy, and have fun at the same time.
The dogs have been especially important to Naomi and her big sister Bethany who both have a rare form of muscular dystrophy.
"Their gross motor skills are extremely weak, so they have never walked, crawled or sat up," said the girls' mom, Mary Monson. "Because of wheelchairs and power chairs and coming to therapy, they are able to maximize whatever strengths they do have."
That's where Diane comes in. She volunteers 40 hours a week working with the kids.
"They really enjoy the dogs," she said. "They laugh and they giggle and they look for them.
"The dogs are motivators and they are a distraction. When things hurt it's not much fun, but when you have a dog playing with you and doing things, it's interesting."
The girls' parents see the difference.
"It's made therapy fun, where before it was more of a chore. Having to do the physical stretches and the things they just don't like," said dad Dave Monson. "The dogs take the pain of it away. It's fun for them, it becomes a game."
For years, Prairie had an older and wiser partner, Ovelle, who was with Diane for 12 years.
Sadly, Ovelle recently got very sick, and had to be put down. She is deeply missed by everyone at STARS, especially Diane.
"She meant a lot to all of us, to the clients and the staff, to all of us," said Diane.
Her death was very tough on the kids that grew to love her so much.
"They cried and they were sad and it was really hard," said Mary.
12-year-old Sam O'Donnell has been coming to STARS since he was three and Ovelle was huge part of his life.
"He was very sad and he made sure to let Diane know how much she meant to him and what a difference she made in our lives," said Sam's mom, Tessa O'Donnell.
Sam has made amazing strides in therapy, like learning to use a special device to communicate.
"I would like to say thank you to Diane for all the volunteer work," he said. "I am sorry Ovelle passed away. I did things for Ovelle that I would not do for any human, but I will do them for Prairie."
Ovelle and Prairie have been so crucial to his progress, Sam now has his own service dog to help him 24/7.
The kids and parents alike are grateful for Diane and her service dogs.
"I know she doesn't want to take any credit," said Mary. "She really puts her heart and soul to this."