I have know Diane Rampelberg and the dogs for approximately 5 ½ years. She came into our lives at very critical time. Our son, Calvin, who has Down Syndrome, was entering the Jumpstart program at Saint Alphonsus Rehabilitation Services Pediatrics in Meridianwhile in the midst of treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. My main concern for Calvin at the time was that he stay healthy. Germs were not our friends. So when I heard there was a dog in the program I was a bit apprehensive to say the least but the folks at Jumpstart assured me of the precaution they would take and the cleanliness standards Ovelle was held to. So reluctantly I agreed, but honestly I did not have any expectations in terms of Calvin’s developmental progress. At first I had virtually no contact with Diane directly but quietly behind the scenes Diane and Ovelle forged a relationship with my son that quickly went beyond any “job requirement.” As Calvin was transitioning out of Jumpstart and into the public schools, Diane came out of the shadows and offered to work with Calvin at school not, because she needed the work or would be compensated but simply because she saw a need and loved Calvin. From that point on what quickly developed was a whole family relationship. She is dedicated not only to Calvin’s success and progress in the clinical setting at STARS but also to seeing that success and progress cross over to all environments he encounters. I think this is Diane’s greatest strength and what has made the biggest impact on our lives. She is driven by a real desire to work with the whole family. She has accumulated many practical, real life strategies that have taught us more effective solutions to deal with the issues we face everyday having a child with a disability. She is passionate about teaching families skills that can positively impact their day to day lives. These are real life solutions have really made a difference in our lives. With Diane’s expert guidance, Ovelle and Prairie are tools who give Calvin the confidence to start conversations where he might otherwise be silent, the ability to calm himself down and to more easily transition between activities, just to name a few. Diane is compassionate, positive, observant, and wise. The dogs are well-behaved, skilled and clean. – Tom and Cherylann Gale

Motivation is a big issue in working with kids with special needs. I have a patient (5 years old and non-verbal) who I was trying to motivate to communicate appropriately using an assistive technology device. (The DynaVox V Max). I was having very little success until we introduced Prairie and Ovelle. We programmed a page on the device for him to be able to tell the dogs to tricks. He chooses a dog, what he wants the dog to do, says please and when they have successfully completed the task he says, “Good job.” For example, “Prairie, jump, please . . .Good job!” The joy on his face when he knows he has been able to successfully tell the dogs to do something is priceless!! This would not be possible without Prairie and Ovelle and the motivation they bring to kids. They make a difference! – Amber Gresham, Speech/Language Pathologist


One boy wouldn’t let anyone brush his teeth. However, we set it up so that he could brush Ovelle’s teeth as a reward for brushing his own teeth. It worked. When he went to the dentist, it was the first time in five years he didn’t have to be sedated. – Diann Davis-Martin, Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant

A patient I have is a young boy who has had years of therapy. He really has to work to move around, so he knows every strategy for avoiding maximal effort. There are many times when he is not about to chase a friend or toy or therapist down the hall, but when Prairie and Ovelle get involved, watch out! Recently, this little boy was balking at propelling the floor scooter down the hall. He was quite determined not to give in to the enticement of his iPad or just chasing dogs . . . but when the dogs started playing with his iPad, he just had to get down the hall to take a turn on the fishing game! – Therese Gerard, Physical Therapist

For a long time I have been aware of the work Diane does with kids with disabilities and had the opportunity to see it first hand last spring. I have a daughter with cognitive delays. She is nine, but functions at about a 3-4 year old level. It has been hard for her to fit in with her classmates and for them to feel comfortable around her. Diane heard that this was a problem for us and offered to bring Ovelle and come to school with Miranda. Before going to school, Diane spent time getting to know Miranda and letting Miranda get to know Ovelle. Miranda only says a few words and is hard to understand, but with Diane’s help, she was able to give commands that Ovelle could follow. Miranda was on top of the world! They went in to her classroom and let Miranda show off “her dog” and all the tricks Ovelle can do. For the first time in her life, Miranda was able to stand in front of her class and impress her classmates. I have never seen Miranda so proud of herself. Diane planned activities that had the kids interacting, with Miranda at the center. Diane was wonderful with the whole class and it was a great day! This was one special day given to Miranda by Diane and Ovelle, but there was also a lasting effect for Miranda. Her classmates got to see more of her personality and understand her better. They were more comfortable approaching her. After this, when I took her to class in the mornings we would be surround by her friends. As a mom, I am so grateful for what we call Miranda’s “Queen for a Day” day. But this is the type of thing that Diane and dogs for kids all the time. They are our heroes! – Pam Gaona and Miranda

Today at work Prairie had a very unusual job request. One of his boys was stuck in the bathroom and did NOT want to get off the toilet. For whatever reason, this boy had been sitting on that toilet and screaming for 30 minutes. Finally, I called in Prairie. Da-doot-da-doo! It’s Praiire to the rescue! Swooping into the bathroom in his usual “save the day” posture, he engaged his charge in a little super hero talk.

Prairie: What’s the problem here?
Boy: I don’t want to get off the toilet and I am going to sit here all day!
Prairie: Whoa! This is serious! Your rear end is going to freeze off! This is a job for the “Toilet Puller!”
Boy: What’s that?
Prairie: I’ll show you. Diane, would you get me my toilet puller, please.
(Diane returns with Prairie’s colorful CCI leash and attaches it to Prairie’s collar.)
Prairie: Here’s what you do. Hold on to the end of my leash with both hands and I’ll save you! Are you ready, boy? Let’s do it!

Prairie backed up and up off that toilet seat came the boy! Success in less than 5 minutes! Today, Diane acted as Prairie’s voice but many times he communicates with his children using an AbleNet Communication Switch. And, that Occupational Therapist would be me! Not only did Prairie get the boy off the toilet he brough a smile to my face! – Kim List, Occupational Therapist

As a physical therapist, I have had several patients who have made significant progress toward their functional mobility and strength goals because of the Dustins’ Paw program at our pediatric clinic. 

One little girl I work with has great difficulty with attention, making it difficult for her to stick with activities long enough to gain strength and endurance. As much as I might try to cajole and sing and do antics to keep her attention, the truth is that she is much more interested in our furry, four-legged friends Prairie and Ovelle. One activity that we do for building strength and endurance is pedaling the modified tricycle. When this little girls is working with a therapist alone, she is not able to maintain pedaling action more than about 15 feet at a time. However, when she is chasing the dogs, she can pedal ½ block down the sidewalk with nothing more than steering assistance from her physical therapist! – Therese Gerard

I am a Physical Therapist at STARS Pediatrics and Jumpstart and used to work with a little girl with cerebral palsy who was also cortically blind.  She didn’t tolerate lying on her tummy much but would when she was able to be near Prairie and Ovelle. Over the course of therapy, we worked on rolling and other various floor mobility activities to encourage her to hold her head up, move her head from side to side and sit up. For example, we had her roll from one dog to the other with her reward being “snuggle” time with one of the dogs. She would also beccome upset due to GI issues and would calm more quickly when placed by either Prairie or Ovelle. - Stephanie Rock, Physical Therapist

Note: A tribute to therapy team work! By Christmas of 2009 this little girls was sitting in a chair, however, the back needed to be tilted for her to hold her head up. By Spring of 2010 she was keeping her head up for longer periods of time but still needed a special high back chair with belt for support. By Christmas 2010 she was sitting up on her own in a cube chair with no support! And, by summer of 2011 she was sitting up on her own in a child-sized therapy chair as the picture shows.

As many of you know, many children with special needs have delays in multiple aspects of their lives.  Too often, a limitation in one area limits progress in another.  However, sometimes, with a little patience, good things come to those who wait. One of our children had been attending therapy at STARS for quite awhile with good progress toward her goals, but it was slow.  Initially, she didn’t feed herself, dress herself, crawl, or talk. After I helped with the Music Magic workshop presented by Dustin’s Paw, I decided to incorporate two of the same songs from the workshop with each treatment session as a motivator for this child.  Within a few weeks, this little one was hooked!  She would take my hands and place them to my face to initiate a song about the sun peeking out. During this time, I saw her motivation with her goals steadily increase.  One day, after she decided she was not going to participate in a strengthening activity, Prairie and Ovelle came in to say hi.  She began to babble to the dogs and participate in the strengthening activity.  With this motivation and more practice, it was a short time until she was crawling on her own and trying to put on her own socks.  The way this child responded to the songs and dogs with increased motivation was inspiring to watch.  I thank Dustin’s Paw for sharing tools to encourage this child in therapy.  I saw this child make gains in speech, physical, and occupational therapy over the past few months; and I look forward to watching her continue to progress.  She brings surprises every week.  Last week, instead of putting her hand over my eyes for the sun peeking out song, she said, “Peek.” – Kimberly A. List, Occupational Therapist

I am a Physical Therapists here at STARS Pediatrics and Jump Start. I have been working with a little boy with Down Syndrome for over a year who is just FULL of personality and spunk. He can at times be very stubbornly shy. But he does love Ovelle and Prairie! During Christmas this past year, when he was being particularly stubborn and refusing to participate in his strengthening activities, we had the idea that he could be Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and pull Ovelle on the sleigh (a scooter board)! He took to the plan eagerly and donned his reindeer antlers. We strapped a belt around his waist and he began to pull Ovelle all over the building, walking forwards and then backwards so he could see Ovelle! What a great workout! And to top it off, it looked like so much fun that one of his friends who was watching wanted a turn at being Rudolf as well!! – Christine Hatab, Physical Therapist