Paying It Forward

March 5, 2012 by Tails Magazine in Home, March 2012 with 0 Comments

PawPADs service dogs help veterans, disabledTwin Cities Local Hero - March 2012

When I hear midlife crisis, my mind immediately conjures up an image of a middle-aged male buying a red convertible, quitting his job, sporting a toupee, and hitting the bars for a last ditch effort to regain his youth.

But, what’s it like for a woman?

Well, for Linda Ball it meant moving to Minnesota in 2007 and creating an organization that provided service dogs to at-risk youth, the developmentally disabled, veterans, and prisoners. Not exactly your stereotypical midlife crisis, but Ball insists that is exactly what it was for her.

Prior to her “midlife crisis,” Ball was doing humanitarian work overseas, but says, “it was difficult to continue that pattern.” So instead, she returned to the United States to spend her time training dogs to work with people with unique challenges. From this, Pawsitive Perspectives Assistance Dogs (PawPADs) was born.

“I went to school in California to learn how to train service dogs,” says Ball. “Since we moved to Minnesota, everything has been magical—it has just felt right.”

Although she admits to getting frustrated during the early stages while training dogs out of her garage—and nearly giving up after banking her inheritance on the success of PawPADs—Ball was laser-focused on making it work. It didn’t take long for things to start improving.

“I met a woman at a garage sale and she donated seven acres of land,” says Ball. “I’m not sure if it was karma, but there were good cosmic things coming our way.”

As Ball’s service dogs became entrenched in the community, word spread about the great work that PawPADs was doing. Soon after opening her doors, Ball received a phone call from a prison director inviting her to be part of their prisoner rehabilitation program. More than three years later, the prison program is a great success.

“The dogs are being so well trained and the looks of accomplishment on the prisoners’ faces is great,” says Ball. “I really enjoy the prison program.”

Still, Ball is amazed by the transformations she sees from the young people who work with her dogs.

“When you hear from teachers that this particular child had a really tough week and has been acting out, and then you see them with their dog, it’s just incredible,” says Ball.

Ball and her service dogs also work with veterans suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I had one gentleman who was taking nine different medications every day before we started working with him,” says Ball. “Now he has gotten to a point where he is only taking two to stay at a better level.”

PawPADs is in the process of placing their first “Diabetic Alert” dog with a child in need, which Ball says will “offer these parents the potential to sleep throughout the night for the first time in years without worrying about the safety of their child.”

These little victories are what make Ball’s work so rewarding.

“There are those moments—those powerful moments—that get me through the tough times,” says Ball. “I remember the first dog I trained. She was placed with a young girl, and the immediate connection between them—it was like she could put aside all that was wrong because she had found unconditional love.”

Ball is grateful for all of the success she has had, but there is still much to do.

“Even in this tough economic time, we have expanded rapidly in the last two years,” says Ball. “We are always in need of donations or dog food. Even if you want to volunteer on the weekend to pick up some poop—that could be one of those magical moments!”

For more information please visit PawPADS.org.

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