T. J. Kline was raised competing in rodeos and rodeo queen competitions since the age of 14, She has thorough knowledge of the sport as well as the culture involved. She has had several articles about rodeo published in the past in small periodicals as well as a more recent how-to article for RevWriter. She is also an avid reader and book reviewer for both Tyndale and Multnomah.
Please welcome Justin, Jessie, Julia and Bailey Hart as they discuss their work with service animals. Can you each tell us a bit about yourselves?
Justin: I’m the oldest of the four of us and, honestly, had no idea I’d end up in this kind of work. I’d always wanted to be a veterinarian and planned on a career with animals but never considered specializing until my sisters began branching out.
Julia: I’m the youngest and, while I’ve always been a “dog person,” I’d planned on being a trainer until a dog I trained for a family worked out so well for their son, who was autistic, that I realized the need for service dogs. I began training them for various disciplines. When my life took a dangerous turn, I was forced to realize my own need for a service dog. Tango, my Great Dane, has helped me cope with PTSD for several years now.
Jessie: Our parents ran a dude ranch, so we grew up around animals all our lives. I helped my dad with the horses and realized how much I loved it and could read them. I knew I wanted to save abused horses from a young age, but never knew exactly how to get started. Horses, like dogs, have a way of looking into your soul. When I realized how much good they could bring out in at-risk youth, I began to pair the two.
And, what about you Bailey?
Bailey: I’m what you’d call the behind-the-scenes crew. I help Jessie at the ranch, help Julia with the dogs when she needs me and help Justin run the vet clinic. I grew up on the ranch with my aunt and uncle so, for me, animals are as much a part of life as breathing. For the past few years, I’ve been taking several of Julia’s dogs into the hospital as therapy animals to visit with patients.
What makes animals, especially dogs and horses, so well adapted to becoming service animals?
Julia: It’s actually not just dogs and horses, these just happen to be the ones we work with most. You can find service animals of almost any variety. I have a friend who is paraplegic who found a kitten in a box and it has become a service cat. She is able to retrieve items for him, turn lights on and off. It’s a beautiful relationship that is unmatched by any other.
Justin: Animals have an innate sense that most people see but don’t quite recognize. Like when you get ill and your dog will stay close to you. They want to please you. Some animals are better suited than others but almost anything can be therapy and help.
Can you give us an example?
Jessie: Take my horses. Most of the animals I take in have come from neglectful or abusive homes. While there are some with issues that just aren’t safe for everyone to work around, many just need to experience kindness, maybe for the first time. When you pair that type of animal with a teen who has known only abuse or rejection, they form a bond. Most of the time, they are able to give one another that attention and love no one else has.
Bailey: It’s similar to the way small pets are allowed in retirement homes. People want to show affection and love and animals do the same. When kids are sick, or going through a procedure in the hospital, bringing in the therapy dogs or the miniature horse Jessie used to have, would help them forget about being sick for a while.
Julia, you train service dogs for a variety of clients, is there one that is more difficult than another?
Julia: Not really. It’s a matter of tailoring the dog’s training to the handler’s lifestyle and needs. A dog that is for a child with Asperger’s is going to be trained differently than a dog for an adult with the same. A person suffering from PTSD is going to need a dog that knows different commands than a dog trained for a diabetic. They will all know basic commands like sit, stay, down, but the real training begins once they are paired.
Justin: The most important part is the bonding between the handler, or owner, and the animal, whether it’s a dog, cat, horse, bird, pig, or something else. If that connection is there, that desire to please is there. Even with the therapy dogs. These can be your own pets, as long as they are eager to serve, they can learn everything else. Animals are far more intelligent than most people credit them with being.
So, you’re average house pet can become a service animal?
Jessie: (laughing) Not always but in some cases. In my case, Julia had rescued my dog from a shelter and was working on basic training with him. In a moment of trial, he connected with me and has refused to leave my side since. He was originally chosen to become a future service animal but may not have been cut out for it.
Julia: And there are any number of “jobs” out there for animals to fit into. Some just don’t. A high energy Jack Russell terrier might have one of the criteria to be great for search and rescue but may not have the nose for it. However, that high energy dog might be a perfect fit for a busy autistic child who simply needs a companion.
Where should we expect the future of service animals, specifically, and your businesses to go from here?
Bailey: I for one would hope that the definition of “service” animals would broaden to encompass all therapy animals. As it stands right now, only dogs deemed to provide medically necessary tasks are covered under the American Disabilities Act. However, there are services many of these animals, and dogs specifically, provide that are emotional. Many people suffering with PTSD aren’t covered under the ADA simply because their dog provides emotional support rather than physical. What these dogs do, emotionally, can be even more valuable and as of right now, that isn’t recognized.
Justin: I’m just a small-town veterinarian and content to stay that way. I just help my sisters with the animals when I’m needed. However, I agree with Bailey. I think there is going to be a greater demand for service animals in the future as people begin to realize the impact they have on the physical and emotional well-being of handlers, especially with kids.
Julia: I hope so. There is nothing more fulfilling to me than to pair an animal with a person who needs it and watch them come together. I think as more studies are done, especially with emotional issues like PTSD and autism, more people will realize the value of these animals. I’m hoping that rather than breeding, trainers will begin searching shelters since so many animals end up there for ridiculous reasons and these pets respond incredibly well to the training.
Jessie: I think the various studies will lead to further education and, hopefully, better animal care, leading in fewer mistreated, abandoned and abused animals. In the meantime, I am continuing to enlarge Heat Fire’s outreach and we are looking to hire a therapist and offer year-round facilities to teens and victims of abuse.
Thank you each for taking time from your very busy schedules. We wish you all the best of luck and look forward to seeing the Heart Fire facilities touch many more lives in the future!
It only took an instant for her world to come crashing down…but Heart Fire Ranch is a place of new beginnings, even for those who find their way there by accidentAs the only veterinarian in town, Justin Hart doesn't have time to think about romance. So when A-list actress Alyssa Cole crashes her car outside his clinic, it's entirely unexpected when there's a spark between them he can't ignore. Still, she's a movie star, and he's just a small town cowboy.Alyssa has learned the hard way not to believe first impressions, especially not in Hollywood. But, 400 miles from her former life with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, she places her trust in the handsome vet who comes to her rescue.There's no denying the connection between them, but when Alyssa's past shows up at the door, will their new relationship be able to withstand the storm?
Check out the Healing Harts series:
Alyssa hung up before Franklin could ask any more questions and made her way down the hall to where Justin waited, feeling as if she was carrying too many burdens on her shoulders. Until calling Franklin, she’d been avoiding facing the reality of her situation—her marriage was over and she was on her own. There was no turning back. The only real decision left to make was what she would ask for in the divorce, for her and their child. It was enough to deal with finding out her husband was cheating on her, had been for almost the entirety of their marriage, but to have him cast her and their child aside, to know the apathy he felt for their child, hurt too much to bear.
“Would you like tea or water?” Justin asked as she came into the kitchen. Two sub sandwiches sat on the table as he opened the refrigerator. When she didn’t answer, he looked back at her over his shoulder. “You okay?”
“I’m fine, I just . . .”
She was tired of keeping secrets, but she wasn’t sure how much she could tell Justin. She didn’t know him, not really. He turned toward her as if waiting for her to say more, his eyes seeking hers, and she imagined she could see empathy in them.
“Things sounded a little heated in there for a minute.”
If he thought that was heated, he would have been shocked to hear Elijah when he got started about how she didn’t want him to be successful just because she dared to question his decision to sign on to represent yet another new young actress. She suspected, now, he’d wanted to do far more than “represent” them, but she couldn’t prove it. And, after her last confrontation with him, he’d probably throw it in her face just to hurt her.
Justin had been kind to her, rescuing her and giving her a place to stay. She knew he didn’t really need her to work in the clinic and was just using it as a way to help her out. He was more tender than Elijah had ever been with her, treating her like a porcelain doll that might break.
Other than that kiss.
Just the thought of his kiss made her body hum to life. The mere brush of his lips against hers had set her body aflame, making her want to pull him down onto the bed with her. His touch made her forget the years with Elijah, the emotional turmoil he caused, the pain of his rejection, making her wonder how real her marriage to Elijah had actually been, if there had ever been any passion in it. She slid into the chair at the table and buried her face in her palms, trying to stop the tears from burning her eyes.
“Hey.” Justin moved to the chair beside her. “It can’t be that bad.”
Alyssa looked up at him, trying to keep the tears at bay. “Are you kidding?” She couldn’t help the bubble of irrational laughter that fell from her lips. “I’m eight months pregnant and I just found out my husband has been sleeping with every woman in Beverly Hills for over half of our marriage. Not to mention that I have no money, no career, and he kicked me out of our house.” She threw up her hands and rose to pace the kitchen as the truth fell from her lips unbidden. “I have nothing. Even that car is in Elijah’s name.”
She realized she’d just told him far more than she’d intended.
“Was that who you were talking to?”
“No, I called my friend. He’s a lawyer.” She slid her hand over the top of her stomach. “I wanted to find out my options.”
“He suggests I ‘divorce the no-good bastard.’ ”
“I have to agree.”
Alyssa faced him, running her hand over the side of her stomach as her baby kicked against her hand. “I wish it were that easy, trust me. But how am I supposed to support us, where are we going to stay? I was on my way to my parents’ house last night after he kicked me out.”
Justin rose and moved toward her. His hands cupped her face gently, tipping her gaze up to meet his eyes. “Your husband is an idiot. He has no idea what he’s giving up.”
Her parched heart soaked up his words. After listening to Elijah’s criticisms for so many years, it was like rain on a desert plain.
“You’re welcome to stay here as long as you need to. That’s probably the only way I can help you.” He smiled and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Unless you want me to kick his ass? I’d be happy to do that for you.”
She laughed quietly. “I appreciate the offer, but that’s probably not in your best interest. I don’t have the money to bail you out of jail.”
The dimple cut into his cheek as he gave her a lopsided smile. “Then I guess the ass-kicking is going to have to wait.”
Alyssa couldn’t look away from his hypnotic blue gaze. He saw her, really saw the woman inside. He didn’t see her as a movie star. He looked past that to the hurting woman beneath. His nearness seemed to demolish every protective barrier she’d erected over the past six years. He made her feel wanted and worthy.
Alyssa didn’t think about what she was doing as she slid her hands to the nape of his neck, pulling him toward her, their mouths exploring, seeking. Justin’s kiss was tender, far gentler than she wanted him to be. Her fingers dug into the hard muscles of his shoulders and he responded. His hands slid into her hair, while his tongue teased hers, tasting her, his teeth nipping at the corner of her full lips.
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