Several years ago Cheyenne residents Bob and Jill Jensen went looking for a service dog to assist Jill with her multiple sclerosis. Their search took them to Kansas City where they acquired their animal. The couple then wondered about developing a training facility for various types of service dogs in Cheyenne, which is unique in this region. The project that Bob and Jill Jensen developed is called K9s 4 Mobility.
The program has been in existence for five years. Jensen ran the state’s economic development effort known as the Wyoming Business Council, is a lobbyist and an entrepreneur. Jensen said developing a service dog training facility for Cheyenne was a good fit.
“We just got very interested in the service dog industry because we live it every day. We can see what the dog enabled her to do and be much more independent than she would be otherwise.”
Thanks to several donations and hard work the project was underway. Jensen says they were able to hire the woman who trained their dog in Kansas City named Michelle Woerner to run the program. She’s been training service dogs for over 20 years and loves her work.
“The service dogs give someone independence that they’re looking for, so that they don’t have to depend on their family, their friends, or hired attendant care in order to stay in their own home, participate in their own community, or even hold a full-time job.”
The training facility is located on beautiful ranch land and resembles a mini a doggie day care on the inside with plenty of places for the dogs to play, get worn down, and train. The dogs are like any other, they love to play and of course sniff. Woerner says they start with puppy trainers, then it’s on to the next stage.
“All of them have a foundation for retrieving and tugging, working beside some type of mobility device. Once they are matched up with their person and I know, then I will use the exact same device, whether it’s a walker with a seat on it, or it’s a power chair, a manual chair or canes, and then I start to re-enact how that person moves and maneuvers. And the dog learns to do the skills for me.”
The training takes about nine months. Then she goes to the home of the new owner to help the dog get into sync with the owner in their new surroundings.
“And I go live with that person for about two weeks. And I teach them how to use the dog in every aspect of their life.”
This week Woerner was planning to fly to Kansas City with Callie Yeater and her new dog George. Yeater has cerebral palsy and is required to ride in a wheelchair. She has had a service dog for over 20 years and she said they perform important tasks.
“Retrieval of dropped objects, transferring from my manual chair to my power chair, tugging open the door to get outside, tugging off gloves in the winter time. And if this chair breaks down, he also has been trained to pull the manual chair that I use.”
Yeater added that when she and her dogs are in sync they can do some remarkable things.
“Couple of years before my previous dog retired we were taking the bus in Kansas City and I would have to change to get onto two difference busses just to get to work. And without my dog being there, I don’t think that’s something I would have done on my own.”
Yeater said the dogs occasionally have to learn new skills as the owners needs change. Bob Jensen remembers his wife’s first dog having to adjust to changes in her movement devices.
“He braced her when she walked, then he had to understand how to pull a manual wheelchair, and then he had to understand how to walk beside a power chair and not pull the power chair. He went from a bracing dog primarily to a dog who picked things up when she dropped them. And opening doors.
When they are on the job they are serious, but the CEO Michelle Woerner says they need down time to still be dogs. While she gets attached to them, she doesn’t mind when they go because they are providing a wonderful service.
She laughed and said, “So, it’s really not hard to let them go, I’ve got three more here to train.”
To learn more about the project go to k9s4mobility.org.