Wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble hayride pro­vides fun for hu­mans, dogs

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Sue Ellen Ross Post-Tri­bune

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.

SUE ELLEN ROSS/POST-TRI­BUNE

Pe­dro Gonzalez, right, of Grif­fith, was the first to ar­rive, with his mother, Hilda Rivera.

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