Oregon City Alliance Charter Academy helping others
Good Samaritans come in all shapes, sizes and species. Just ask the folks at the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office or the Autism Service Dogs of America.
Madison Ramsey, a junior at Oregon City's Alliance Charter Academy, began working with Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue last year and graduated from the cadet program in May. ACA ninth-grader Grana Khan is training Swift, a Goldendoodle, to be a service dog to help children with autism, as is ACA associate director Jill Mohr, who works with Rogue, a golden lab.
The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue program is an all-volunteer, youth-based organization for young people age 14 and over who are interested in law enforcement, Ramsey said.
"We go out on searches for lost hikers, and we also go out on evidence searches, looking for bones and body parts and weapons at crime scenes," she said.
"We're trained in the recovery of bodies and what we might see," she said, adding that she has never been squeamish about such grim experiences.
This fall, Ramsey was called to help evacuate people threatened by the Eagle Creek Fire.
"We had no idea what the team was getting into. We weren't trained for that specific kind of intensity," Ramsey said.
She and her teammates, all young girls, went door to door telling people they had to evacuate and found that, for the most part, residents were gracious and prepared.
In some cases, animals were involved, and Ramsey and her team called on another rescue unit with a van to help move some horses to a shelter.
In another instance, a woman came out of her house with a bag full of live chickens.
In the end, "everyone got out safely, and the firefighters were able to contain that fire," she said.
Ramsey is interested in a career in law enforcement, but said community service was important to her as well.
Her experience with the search and rescue office has been rewarding.
"I have learned how to work well in a team. I am introverted, and not used to working with large groups, and I would not have gotten through the training without my team," Ramsey said.
Now that she has graduated from the youth leadership program, Ramsey is on call 24-7 by phone or text.
Her first search was near the Bridge of the Gods, looking for a female hiker missing for several days.
She has a message for hikers headed out into wilderness areas, and it mostly involves communicating with loved ones and being prepared.
"Be sure to tell people where you are going, have your cell phone charged, and bring a cordless charger," she said.
"Make sure you also have the essential things to stay outside for 48 hours, including water, food and warm clothing."
For those interested in the search and rescue cadet program, Ramsey said students ages 14 to 18 should visit the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue website at mcsosar.org. Recruiting for 2017-18 is over, since training takes place from September to May, but students should consult the website for recruiting opportunities for 2018-19.
What does she like best about the youth leadership program?
"Helping people — it is just rewarding to have people thank you," she said. "I've made strong friendships, because we have gone through so much together."
Khan, who is 14, has taken on a responsibility that would challenge many adults — she and Swift are together 24-7 as she trains the dog to become a service animal. That means bringing Swift, a golden lab and poodle crossbreed, to school to socialize her, but she is a working dog, and so students are not encouraged to pet her.
Khan learned about the Autism Service Dogs of America program from Mohr, a staff member at Alliance Charter Academy.
"She has a dog, too, so I worked with her this summer and filled out the application for the ASDA program," Khan said.
Volunteers in the program evaluated Khan through a home visit, and she was then given Swift in early August.
The year-old dog already had undergone some training, but Khan has learned how to continue it, and she and Swift attend an ASDA workshop the first Sunday of every month.
She will continue to work with Swift for two to two-and-a-half years, and then the dog will be matched with a family with an autistic child.
Will it be hard to give up the dog, after such intensive training?
"I know she will be going to someone who needs her and she will be loved," Khan said.
Khan further noted ASDA arranges a two-week training period with the new family so that family members learn the commands. Once the dog is settled in, a staff member makes a home visit to teach tether training.
"The tether is like a leash and is connected to a belt that the child can wear. This keeps the child safe," Khan said.
The dog also helps comfort the child and helps the child deal with social issues, like encounters with people and changing environments.
Khan hopes to keep working with ASDA training service dogs for autistic children as long as possible. She has learned there are many different types of dogs with different temperaments, and said that Swift is sweet and gentle.
And as a combination of labrador and poodle, Swift's fur is hypoallergenic, so is a good fit for a family with allergies.
When she is on duty, Swift "knows what you want her to do," Khan said.
"When she's off duty, she likes to run around with a piece of fleece in her mouth and sometimes she chases her tail."
Visit autismservicedogsofamerica.com for more information.
Mohr, who has worked at Alliance Charter Academy for 11 years and has been the assistant director for five years, said she has been involved with dog training all her life. She was heavily involved with search and rescue using dogs, but once she came to ACA full time, she had to find a way to work with dogs at the same time.
Training an autism service dog "is another way to work with dogs, and I have a passion for people with disabilities," Mohr said. "These dogs speak to my heart; they change the lives of children and change the dynamic of the whole family."
Mohr has trained 14 dogs for the ASDA program, noting that because of her extensive experience she is given dogs that are in a more advanced stage of training and with advanced skills, like Rogue, her current golden lab.
"I work on refining their obedience skills, and I socialize them by exposing them to as many different situations as possible," Mohr said.
She said she works on exposing dogs to the same kinds of environments that a family would experience, like visits to grocery stores, libraries and schools, as well as riding on public transit.
Mohr is very clear that the autism dogs are given two main tasks: safety and applying deep pressure.
"These dogs do not provide emotional support, like service dogs, as their primary task is to keep the child safe. They are tethered to the child, so the child won't run off," she said.
The dogs also are taught how to apply deep pressure, so if the child is lying down, the dog can put its body on the child to help ground and calm the child down, Mohr said.
"The dogs also open up a whole new social realm for children," she said.
Mohr noted that she has heard children say that before they received a dog, no one would talk to them. But once they were given a dog, people come and speak to them, alleviating the "pain of isolation."
There is a long waiting list for autism dogs, and a need for more puppy trainers as well.
Research has shown that "dogs can make a huge impact," on children with autism, and for Mohr it has been a joy to see the life-changing effects on entire families, once they are given an autism-support dog.
Training an autism dog is "a wonderful way of giving back, and the ASDA will teach you and give you support, if you have the time and energy" to train a dog, Mohr said.
She noted that the Autism Service Dogs of America is a local organization with a good reputation. Learn more at facebook.com/pg/autismservicedogsofamerica.
As for Rogue, Mohr said she loves how calm and stable he is.
She added: "He's a real pleaser and unflappable. He is one of those dogs that can sense the need in people and can orient to that person."
Visit the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue website at mcsosar.org and click on Search & Rescue to learn more.
Autism Service Dogs of America was founded in 2002 by Priscilla Taylor. Incorporating her love of dogs and her background in special education, she formed this nonprofit, community-based organization to aid children with special needs.
Visit autismservicedogsofamerica.org or facebook.com/autismservicedogsofamerica to learn more about training a dog to be an autistic service animal. Autism Service Dogs of America is a local organization based in Tualatin.
Alliance Charter Academy is a charter school in Oregon City that provides tailor-made, parent-driven, student-centered education for its students. Visit alliancecharteracademy.com to learn more.