Wheelchair-accessible hayride provides fun for humans, dogs
A recent Saturday was the picture-perfect autumn day for a hayride.
CSRI, a local, nonprofit organization that provides recreational opportunities for individuals of all ages who have special needs and abilities, planned this day for their annual Wheelchair Accessible Hayride at Oak Ridge Prairie.
First to arrive on the scene was Pedro Gonzalez of Griffith with his mother Hilda Rivera.
“It’s so beautiful here,” Gonzalez said as he adjusted his wheelchair for the ride up the ramp to the hay wagon. “I’m excited to be here.”
Lake County Parks employee Dawn Robertson checked in participants, as they put on neck scarves and gathered extra blankets.
“This is my favorite season, and this is the only hayride I go on each year,” said Jannie Young, of Chicago, as she waited to board with her service dog, Haven. “This park is so colorful, I enjoy the changing of the leaves.”
Lake County Parks Department employees Tim Armstrong and Stuart Long made sure the riders in their wheelchairs and their companion dogs were securely fastened down before the ride began.
“This (annual hayride) is always a good time for everyone,” Armstrong said, as he headed to the driver’s seat of the tractor. “Although it’s always a little chilly this time of year, no one seems to mind, especially if the sun is shining, like it is today.”
All of the service animals on the hayride were members of Canine Companions for Independence.
Upon request, the individual owners received their animal after a specific, rigid, two-year training pe- riod.
Trainer Judy Belcik, of Palos Heights, Ill., was in attendance at the hayride with Frost, a puppy-intraining.
“The first time I became aware of Canine Companions was when my daughter was doing a service project for a high school class,” Belcik said. “I worked with her and was intrigued with the program.”
That was 12 years ago; and that first dog, Laurel, did not go on to membership with the organization, but did become the Belcik’s family dog.
“I’ve continued to train puppies for the organization since that time,” Belcik added.
Billed as “Exceptional Dogs for Exceptional People,” Canine Companions for Independence is a nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and on-going support to ensure quality partnerships. These services are offered free of charge to recipients.
Four types of assistance dogs are involved in the Canine Companions for Independence program.
Service Dogs, which are partnered with adults with disabilities to assist with tasks and increase independence; Skilled Companions, trained to perform tasks for an adult or child with a disability under the guidance of a facilitator; Hearing Dogs, which are trained to recognize and respond to important sounds by alerting their partners, who are deaf or hard of hearing; and Facility Dogs, who are expertly trained dogs partnered with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation or education setting.
Sue Ellen Ross is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.
Pedro Gonzalez, right, of Griffith, was the first to arrive, with his mother, Hilda Rivera.