Testimonials From Parents

Some people question whether miracles really happen. I can say with certainty that I know that they do. My son, Sam, was born four months before his due date. He weighed one pound, seven ounces at birth. He is a miracle that I have the privilege of witnessing every day. Sam is now a healthy, very happy nine year old in the third grade.

Sam spent 116 days in the neonatal intensive care unit before we were able to bring him home. As his mom, there was not much I could do for Sam to help him through those first critical months, except be there, read stories to him, tell him stories about his family and hold him when I could. The medical care was left up to experts who worried about doses of medicine, the right type of ventilator, how much oxygen to give, what temperature his incubator should be at, when his fused eyes would open for the first time. As him mom, I had to have faith, because I did not know the answers to these questions.

Because of his premature birth, Sam has cerebral palsy and has been in therapy his entire life. He started physical and occupational therapy before he ever left the hospital. Sam started working with Dustin’s Paw in 2006 at St. Alphonsus through their Jumpstart outpatient therapy program. Sam has been a patient there ever since. Diane has selflessly devoted an incredible amount of time and energy to Dustin’s Paw, and has never taken any pay for the work she does. Diane is a canine modality specialist and works with kids by incorporating her skilled dogs into kids speech, physical and occupational therapy. There are not words to describe the pure joy that the children (and their parents) get from having Ovelle and Prairie participate in the therapy. It transforms their work from “therapy” to play and fun.

Being the parent of a child that is non-verbal, struggled to walk, open doors, turn on a light switch, drink from a regular cup and many other things we take for granted, having Ovelle or Prairie at Sam’s side made it seem like a less arduous task. Diane and Dustin’s Paw are there to make the dogs not only a friend for the patients, but a teammate, an encouragement and a big reward for a job well done. It is amazing what Diane and the dogs can get the kids to do.

My husband and I immediately saw the value in what Diane, Ovelle and Prairie did for Sam. We talked about getting a CCI skilled companion dog for Sam. It was a big decision because it is an enormous commitment, and we took a lot of time to make it. At every step, Diane was there answering questions, encouraging, supporting and still working with Sam at Jumpstart.

In May of 2011, Sam received his CCI own skilled companion dog, Galba. There is not a chance that we could have done what we did to bring Galba into our family without the six years of support, encouragement and help of Diane and Dustin’s Paw. Diane works untold hours. She is the heart and soul of Dustin’s Paw. She volunteers more hours in a week than a full-time job. She prepares the lessons, gives presentations, shops for equipment, answers questions, updates donor information, sends thank you cards, listens and offers advice and thinks of ways to grow Dustin’s Paw. She does all these things in addition to taking care of two skilled facility dogs, who are a fair amount of work in themselves. Diane does not take one dime for the work she does. She is a tireless advocate for children and for CCI dogs. There are not words to describe the admiration, gratitude and love my family and I have for Diane, Ovelle, Prairie and Dustin’s Paw.

Like I said, there are people that never experience miracles. I have experienced many miracles firsthand, the birth of my son and the miracles that Diane and Dustin’s Paw create with kids every day by their work, their outreach and their commitment to helping others.

Tessa O’Donnell, Parent

The motto of Dustin’s Paw of Idaho is “turning challenges into miracles.” It is hard to appreciate the magnitude of that phrase until a member of your family experiences it first had. In our case two members of our family, our twin girls Claire and Julia have been the recipients of the miracle of Dustin’s Paw. This miracle is how the dogs establish a bond with children and adults who find themselves with challenges, and who benefit from the facilitated interaction of the dogs under the direction of their expert hander, Diane Rampelberg. The human-canine bond is very powerful.

The human-canine bond in a therapeutic setting is indescribable. The bond between the dogs and their patients, child or adult, is nothing short of amazing. The true miracle is that the dogs, via Diane’s facilitation, can get people to push the limits of their capabilities, achieve new skills and help them conquer their fears of doing tasks that come naturally to most of the population. These tasks include walking, talking, eating, and dressing. Every goal achieved is the result of incredibly hard work by the patient in exchange for the motivation reward from the dogs.

Because of our daughter’s involvement with Dustin’s Paw, our family qualified for and received our own Service Canine. As a result, we attempt to recreate the therapeutic activities at home that Diane and the dogs accomplish during their intensive therapy sessions.

The Gambassi Family

My sons, Daniel and McKay, are twins with Cerebral Palsy. They have received therapy at the STARS clinic for several years. As a younger child, Daniel had separation anxiety and was upset being left with the therapist. When Ovelle stepped into his schedule, he never had another day of tears. Even the hardest work was still enjoyable with the companionship of Ovelle and the enthusiastic support of Diane. At the conclusion of the day, Daniel walked out to the waiting room with Ovelle’s leash in hand. Diane would sing a special “Daniel and Ovelle song” for him and he would continue to hum that song all week to refer to the fun he had in working with Ovelle. Daniel regularly mentions the dogs in his nightly prayers as he refers to his best friends.

McKay has been insecure walking without a hand held by an adult. His sensory challenges have made it hard for him to touch a variety of things limiting his ability to interact, eat and play, but he will hold the leash as he walks Ovelle down the hallway. Building off that leash hold and by using the dogs as a bridge to increase new sensory experiences, McKay now touches many things and even plays tetherball with the dogs.

The reward of having the dogs with the boys and participating in the tasks required in speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy makes the job less difficult and even enjoyable for them. Truthfully, I was surprised that they learned so much quicker with dogs at their sides.

Cassie and Jared Roundy

Testimonials From Speech & Language Professionals

Diane, Prairie and Ovelle have been vital in the success that my patients have had in achieving their goals. Prairie and Ovelle have played many roles in helping to promote speech, language, social, feeding and overall communication skills for my patients. They are models, positive reinforcers, playmates, friends, augmentative and alternative communication users, and confidence builders just to name a few of the roles that they play.

I am so thankful for Diane, Prairie and Ovelle in all that they do to help promote the success of my patients. No words could express my gratitude. Just seeing the dogs or hearing the bells on their collars brings smiles to me and my patients’ faces – that alone shows how important Diane, Prairie and Ovelle are to us. They complete our rehab team.

Kaela Laudal, Speech/Language Pathologist

As a Speech/Language Pathologist, I have had the privilege of working with Diane Rampelberg and her assistance dogs over the past several years, with a variety of children seen at Saint Alphonsus Rehabilitation Services.

Ovelle and Prairie have been especially helpful when working with children with feeding disorders. The dogs, given Diane’s guidance, are able to distract and motivate those children who may have sensory issues with food, related to medical backgrounds such as a chronic history of reflux, or other issues that prevent children from establish healthy attitudes toward mealtime.

One recent example of a child who benefited from the assistance dogs, was a child who was referred to us because of her strong refusal to eat anything but a small handful of food types. She would typically refuse to touch most foods, even gagging at the sight or smell of many foods. When attempting evaluate this child, she initially did not want to even remain in the high chair, based on the new setting and foods introduced. When Diane and her dogs entered the room, they were able to immediately capture her attention. Given the motivation to interact with the dogs, the child soon picked up foods that previously elicited a strong negative response, and handed them to the dogs directly. She quickly moved on to bring non-desired foods to her own lips independently. Her parents were able to follow through on these strategies at home to introduce touch, smell and tastes of food at home. Within a month, the child was eating a good variety of foods and trying even more. Her diet changed significantly, allowing for improved weight gain and enhanced meal time experiences for the family.

Just one evaluation session was needed for this child, thanks to Diane and her dogs, who allowed the child to over come her fears and for her parents to witness successful strategies for home (including feeding the family dog!).

Patricia Vandervelden, Speech/Language Patholgist

I am a Speech/Language Pathologist who has had the privilege of working with Diane, Prairie and Ovelle. Upon initiating my employment at this facility, one of the main assets I quickly noticed was the dynamic that Diane and the dogs created with some of my most challenging patients.

One patient in particular has a goal of making eye contact when exchanging picture communication cards with his communication partner to target appropriate social skills. When using the dogs as part of that skill, my patient quickly began making eye contact with the dogs which has now led him to glancing at me appropriately also. I firmly believe that the love and patience the dogs show without pressure or judgment allows patients to have confidence and motivation that people cannot mimic. I find the relationship between the patients, Diane and the dogs one that is irreplaceable and I consider their contribution a huge part of my patients success!

Kristine Lefferts, Speech/Language Pathologist

Testimonials From Physical & Occupational Therapists

As a physical therapist, planning motivating activities to promote engaged participation during therapy sessions is of utmost importance. Dustin’s Paw has provided a multitude of “switch access” toys and switches to allow children with various physical abilities the opportunity to play, engage and control toys that provide sensory experiences, promote communication, and facilitate motor activities. Thank you, Dustin’s Paw!

Melanie McKinney, Physical Therapist

Prairie and Ovelle are great motivators for many of the children with whom I work. They are great to play ball with whether it be fetch or soccer. They lead the children through obstacle courses, or pull them (or get pulled) on scooter boards. They really encourage the children to work on skills that are often frustrating and difficult but are made enjoyable when playing with their friends Prairie and Ovelle.

Stephanie Rock, Physical Therapist

We use Ovelle and Prairie to work on socialization skills, fine motor and play skills. One patient is now able to play ball with the dogs using a small ball. He is able to do a one handed throw, reach and grasp AND hold the ball during play activities. Building off this, the patient is now able to grasp, hold, release and scoop with eating utensils functionally when feeding Ovelle and Prairie.

Farrell Lindley, Occupational Therapist

For engagement in functional and meaningful activities we use the assistance of Ovelle and Prairie to work creating therapeutic relationships with the patients. With one patient we started with basic tactile desensitization. He was unable to eat, had difficult with dressing, and tolerating textures in his hands and would react adversely to tactile sensation – even human touch. By incorporating the use of Ovelle and other Occupational Therapy interventions, this patient is able to tolerate tactile sensations on this hands and body so he can engage in functional and meaningful everyday activities. We are now working on feeding and being able to tolerate different food textures. Through modeling, desensitization strategies with Ovelle and Prairie along with other Occupation Thereapy modalities, he can tolerate many textures without adversities. At home he is now able to eat an entire yogurt with actual consumption being approximately 50%.

Farrell Lindley, Occupation Therapist

Testimonials From Early Intervention & Education Professionals

The past four years I have gotten to know Diane and her dogs (Dustin, Geralyn and Ovelle), as a teacher for children birth to 3 with visual impairments I cannot emphasize enough how important this relationship has been. Diane works directly with our children and families and builds on concept development as we work on different tasks in and out of the classroom.

Children with visual impairments are at the greatest risk for being tactilely defensive as their hands are like their eyes. The method that Diane uses to introduce the dogs to our kids allows them time to explore and learn about a dog at a pace that supports their development and interest level. A child who is blind or visually impaired needs to have some sort of mental image of the real object or being before an abstract picture or symbol makes a connection. How do you “imagine” a dog when vision is not providing the input? How do you imagine the hair, the face, the tail, the nose, etc.? Not only does her work help a child develop a concept of a “dog,” an “animal,” or a “pet” — but, this work builds on a child’s ability to understand and begin to generalize concepts like, “up,” “down,” “on,” and “off.” She expands upon a child’s skills simply by doing activities that the child does with the dog. This work has been so meaningful and enriching to our children’s lives.

The families are overjoyed with the outcomes and the results will last a lifetime. This work reduces fear of dogs, builds relationships, supports concept development, increases interest in mobility, supports orientation and mobility skills giving them a safe way to explore, travel and have fun. In addition, Diane finds ways to incorporate daily living skills through the dogs like feeding, brushing teeth, and taking care of oneself or another being as she works with the children. The benefits are endless and the results are life sustaining. They truly do work miracles.

Diana Dennis, Early Interventionist and Vision Specialist, Santa Clara County Office of Education, San Jose, CA

The dogs are THE best way to teach receptive and expressive language to our deaf and hard of hearing students. So much so, we have designed our curriculum around the dogs. These remarkable dogs respond to sign language, participate in interactive activities and encourage our children to try new things.

Lenore Williams, Early Start Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teacher, Chandler Tripp School, San Jose, CA.

I am a teacher of very young children with special needs. Diane and her dogs have worked with my program for over four years. In that time I have seen the dedication and commitment to every child and family who have had the opportunity to work with this fantastic team. They are able to use a child’s natural curiosity to encourage language and movement in those children who find just making sounds and moving parts of their bodies to be a challenge. At the same time, they are able to overcome any anxiousness or initial fears the children may have through Diane’s direction and the calmness and temperament of her dogs. I can honestly say that all the children light up when Diane enters the room with either Ovelle or Geralyn. They are definitely an integral part of our program.

– Lois Lieu, Special Education Teacher

Certainly Diane and her dog’s days at school are among my favorites, and the kids love them. Diane is an excellent teacher and knows her students well. She confers with staff on behavioral repertoires, knows her goals for each student and how best to achieve them using a specially trained dog, and then provides immediate feedback to staff, and to parents when present. She is able to do this in a very caring, focused and succinct way, spending as much of the allotted time with the students as possible. Her dogs are dogs of many talents as well, complete with many behaviors and a large wagonload of learning materials and props.

Sharon Hoyt, Early Childhood Special Education Teacher, Santa Clara County, San Jose, CA.

Testimonials From Hospital & Health Care Professionals

I have had the opportunity to see the work done by Diane and her wonderful dogs at Saint Alphonsus Jumpstart Program in Meridian. It is amazing to watch these special children respond to the dogs who give their all to help each and every child with special needs.

Linda Payne Smith, Vice President of Philanthropy, Marketing/Communications and Advocacy, Saint Alphonsus Health System

Dustin’s Paw, one of our grant recipients, has treated us to yearly presentations on the Assistance Dog Program, providing handouts full of pictures, stories and letters from their daily visits working with special needs children in the Boise area. We’ve enjoyed stories like “What’s a Toilet Puller?” told by Diane Rampelberg, handler of Ovelle and Prairie IV. Diane has also included descriptions of the special learning toys and how they are used provided as gifts at the annual Christmas party for the children attending STARS Pediatrics/Jumpstart. We’ve been able to read letters written by Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists and the Coordinator of Jumpstart, supporting the achievements of Dustin’s Paw. We cannot thank Diane, Ovelle and Prairie IV enough for their endless commitment to educated and rehabilitate, with such kindness and skill, the children of our community.

Saint Alphonsus Auxiliary, Grantors of Dustin’s Paw since 2007

Diane, Ovelle and Prairie make an amazing difference in the lives of so many children. They improve the lives of our patients and families every day. The joy I have seen and the smiles they bring to so many faces is indescribable. The annual Tea Party and Christmas Programs have been such a gift to our families. Many of these parents don’t have the opportunity to see their children participate in this type of event. These events provide our families with very special memories. In addition, the special toys and activities that Dustin’s Paw provides allow our patients with special needs to interact and engage in play in so many new ways.

Tiffany Dean, PEDS Meridian Manager, Saint Alphonsus Rehabilitation Services

Diane, Ovelle and Prairie (Dustin’s Paw) have been such a great asset to our Jumpstart program. Not only do they motivate our patients to work harder and try new things that may be difficult or scary, they provide our patients with opportunities that they may not have outside of Jumpstart. Often times in school or the community, our children do not get the opportunity to be the star of a play or even an active part of a school program due to their disabilities. Dustin’s Paw hosts special programs and parties for our children and their parents. Last year, the Jumpstart children put on the play “The Mitten” for our families. The play was attended by parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. One grandparent came from over 100 miles away just to see her granddaughter in her first play. After the play, she told me that she was so thankful that her granddaughter was able to participate. She thought she would never have the opportunity to see her granddaughter be a “star.” The pride and joy in her smile brought tears to my eyes and really exemplified our mission to heal body, mind and spirit!

Diann Davis-Martin, Jumpstart Coordinator, Saint Alphonsus Rehabilitation Services

My first day at work I had the pleasure of meeting Diane, Ovelle and Prairie. I had never had the experience of working with assistance dogs in a therapy setting and by the end of my day I was very impressed! For example, one child’s goal was to descend and ascend stairs. With Diane, Ovelle and Prairie there, they were able to motivate the child to take steps up to a ball at the top of the stairs and then throw the dogs the ball, descend back down the stairs and throw the ball – over and over again. It was all done in delight and excitement AND at the same time achieving the child’s goals without resistance or tears!

Ashely Matthews

Testimonials From Canine Companions for Independence

Diane Rampelberg has been involved with Canine Companions for Independencesince 1997. She started her work here as a puppy raiser and is now a three time Facility dog graduate. She founded Dustin’s Paw with CCI Facility dog Dustin, and has continued her work with current CCI Facility dog’s Ovelle and Prairie. Diane is a valued CCI graduate, she not only cares exceptionally for her two current Facility dogs, she is diligent at maintaining their skills and remaining in contact with CCI, passing her Assistance Dog International testing with both dogs every 3 years as required by our organization. Diane is also a valuable asset to our staff, sharing her knowledge of animal enhanced therapy with our Canine Companions for Independence Instructors. Through workshops, presentations and printed materials, Diane has assisted our staff in expanding their knowledge in this area and allowing them to pass this valuable material on to our clients who work with or are parents of children with disabilities.

 – Lauren Rignel, NW Program Manager and Instructor, Canine Companions for Independence

Diane Rampelberg is a leader in her industry, She has a unique ability to incorporate canines into therapy. She is able to take a dog that has multiple skills to a whole new level by integrating them into a client’s needs for therapy involving both cognitive or physical routines. Canine Companions for Independence recently benefited from Diane’s expertise through a seminar she gave to the Northwest Region Instructors. She gave us a practical view of how a facility dog or skilled companion dog could be used in a professional setting for the progression of the client. The training staff and myself left the seminar inspired and eager to try some of her creative suggestions. When it comes to incorporating a facility dog or skilled companion dog into routines Diane is an expert and someone who I would recommend.

– Chuck Dickinson, Training Manager/Instructor, Canine Companions for Independence

I graduated with my wonderful Facility Dog, Presley, in November 2002 and was looking forward to my first CCI Graduate Seminar in October 2003. Little did I know that I was about to meet Diane, who would become my mentor and cherished friend, and her incredible Facility Dog, Dustin.

At that seminar, Diane and Dustin presented a treasure trove of creative ideas that I have used with my special needs students ever since. In addition, Diane told me of a special dog camp the following summer that Presley and I attended along with Diane and Dustin. At that camp a bond was formed that has remained to this day. In addition to learning from Diane’s presentations at the seminar and camp, I have devoured the publications that she has written. I often refer to, and pass along ideas from, the Newsletters and Dustin’s Paw Handbook, both of which are full of helpful and creative ideas for Facility Dog teams. Both Diane and I lost our precious dogs to cancer at an early age (Dustin in May 2004 and Presley in April 2008) and are now working with our successor dogs. Having Diane to turn to during my agony over Presley’s illness and treatments, and my grief after her death, was a tremendous comfort to me. Thank you Diane, for being there at the beginning of my CCI journey, for being a wonderful mentor over the years, for seeing me through the difficult times, and for continuing to be a special friend and soul mate. I cherish it all.

– Caren Hill and Lacey, CCI Facility Dog Team

Diane has been involved with Canine Companions for Independencefor 15 years in a variety of capacities, first as a puppy raiser, then as a graduate. Diane’s dedication to her dogs and their work together is truly remarkable. She has exposed many people to the benefits of the human-canine connection. She now works with two of our Facility Dogs due to the amount of work she does through Dustin’s Paw. The staff at the Northwest Region of Canine Companions for Independencehave been so impressed with her results and innovative ideas that we have asked her to do several seminars for us –for graduates and training staff. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Diane and Dustin’s Paw.

– Angie Schacht, Instructor, Canine Companions for Independence