Three of Farm Bureau’s Hometown Heroes
Carteret County Farm Bureau Member Deborah Bell spent seven years working as an occupational therapist, helping patients young and old in clinics and private rehabilitation centers. Then in June of 2003, Bell began to train others to work with people with injuries or physical handicaps. However, Bell instructs dogs, not people. After getting additional training in California and her own working service dog, Bell opened Lifeline Canines, a nonprofit organization that trains service and therapy dogs. Bell’s operation in Hubert has developed more than two dozen canines to serve people in a variety of settings. Bell’s passion for this endeavor was stoked greatly when she obtained her own service dog, Santiago, who was born with only one front leg. Bell says Santiago does everything a service dog is meant to do, adding that he further inspires because he’s overcome a physical obstacle to thrive.
Besides potentially serving for someone who is blind or hearing impaired, Bell described at least two other ways these dogs help. She recalled how a child struggled to button a shirt, but the youngster learned how by dressing a therapy dog. Bell also shared how an adult rehabilitation patient with a severe arm injury played fetch with a therapy dog to boost strength and dexterity. A graduate of Lifeline Canines’ training program, Bell is also a regular contributor to a variety of rehabilitation and counseling departments at Carteret General Hospital. “What people don’t even realize is the impact until they start seeing what the dog does,” Bell says. “Motivation is probably the biggest thing they do. It motivates them to do the work and not think about the pain. It helps with depression. It helps lowering blood pressure. It motivates them to work on goals to get through a rehab program just because of the presence of that dog.” On average, Bell and a fleet of volunteers have to work with a dog for at least two years before it can be certified. It’s not an easy process, but one she welcomes.
“Seeing the end result, seeing the dogs out there working, is definitely very rewarding,” Bell says. “The biggest question I get out in public is, ‘How do you give the dogs up? How do you train them for two or three years and be able to give them up?’ Yes, you miss the dogs, but it’s rewarding when you’ve been teaching them all this time and you see them using the skills you taught them and making a difference for people. I don’t want them fully trained sitting around my house. I want them out in the field making a difference.”