Exceptional Businesswomen 2016: Linda Ball unleashes compassion through her nonprofit

Linda Ball
Linda Ball

Linda Ball’s most successful endeavor began when she hit an emotional wall.

After years working in developing countries as a Peace Corps volunteer and country director for GOAL, an Irish humanitarian organization, she experienced an overwhelming case of “compassion fatigue” while in a Honduras dump.

“I witnessed the effects of abject poverty, the effects of war, the effects of corruption and of gang violence,” Ball said. “And there was a moment when I was assessing GOAL’s combatting child labor program in the city dump in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where it hit me that I needed to make a change as I was paying more attention to the dogs than to the children.”

This new direction led her and her rescued pets, a cat from Mongolia, a dog and a cat from Bosnia and a dog from the jungles of Honduras, to California where she earned a degree in service dog education.

She started Pawsitive Perspectives Assistance Dogs (PawPADs) in 2007, a nonprofit organization that trains service dogs and matches them to people with disabilities, and moved to Minnesota in 2008, where PawPADs has become one of the top three service dog organizations in the state.

PawPADs partners dogs with both adults and children who are physically disabled, have Type-1 diabetes and physically wounded warriors.

The organization’s service dogs are also working in three District 194 schools and the Veterans Administration Hospital. Ball also spent three years facilitating an extremely successful Prison Road Puppies Program in two federal prisons.

“Several of the inmates I worked with have been released and gone on to be contributing members of society, with a couple of them embarking on careers in dog training,” Ball said.

As founder and executive director, Ball, who earned a master’s in nonprofit management, oversees development and management of Lakeville-based PawPADs.

“I wear a variety of hats such as administration, management, fundraising, strategic planning, puppy and dog assessments, dog care, dog training, program development, program implementation, teaching, partnering dogs with appropriate clients, client training, client follow-up and myriad other tasks,” Ball said. “You can find me picking up dog poop as readily as facilitating client training.”

She said her biggest strength is also what brings her the most joy: facilitating success for other people – and dogs.

“I am committed to creating life enhancing experiences and partnerships between canines and people facing the many challenges life can present through “four paws and a pawsitive perspective,” she said.

Ball said her organization still faces the same challenges as other nonprofits: having enough financial resources to keep the lights on and food in the dogs’ bowls.

She noted the assistance dog industry is being plagued with the increasing prevalence of fake service dogs, people who pass off their own pets as service dogs and now organizations that may be well-intentioned but do not take the time to get the necessary education and experience needed to operate.

“They have no real understanding at the complexities of training and placing assistance dogs. In the end, they create distrust among donors and the public,” she said.

Overcoming the issue involves maintaining their high standards and educating the public.

“We work hard to increase public confidence through high standards of accountability and transparency by working with organizations like the Charities Review Council to meet all 27 of (their) accountability standards,” she said.

They are planning to build a larger facility and host a variety of experiential educational opportunities that reach more people and dogs and develop an international branch of the program.

Ball said she is honored and humbled to be recognized for this award among the other successful business women in this community.

She encouraged all women professionals and business owners to continue to take risks in life.

“My advice is to be tenacious and don’t be afraid to fail,” she said. “When you are knocked down, tell yourself, ‘it is what it is at this particular moment in time,’ and then get back up, dust yourself off and keep moving forward.”