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Special Needs Couple Relies On Humor, Each Other

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Maureen and Paul Pranghofer joke that they have just enough working body parts for one person. It’s a line that captures their sense of humor, but you really need to meet them to see how much they’ve overcome over the years, and why their special spirit inspires so many.

Spend some time with them, and you’re likely to laugh. They sure do.

WCCO met Maureen and Paul a few months ago, for a story on their dog Ally. But as we quickly realized, this was much more than a story about a family and their dog, even a specially trained service dog, with a book about her.

Maureen wrote Ally’s Busy Day to teach kids about service dogs, and explain how Ally helped her recovery from a spinal cord injury.

“I credit Ally with my healing,” she said, “because my mental outlook, how I thought about myself, totally changed.”

But this is Ally’s last day at their house. She’s gotten older, tires easily and is ready to retire.

It’s an emotional day for Maureen, but “there probably won’t be tears because both of my eyes are artificial, and I find that I rarely cry because of that,” she said.

You see, Maureen has been legally blind since birth. She had limited vision earlier in life, but after she was injured in a traffic accident, even that disappeared. And that’s why her next service dog is so special.

“The trainer has never trained a dog to guide before,” Paul said, “so she’s really excited about the results.”

Maureen and Bentley, the new dog, spent weeks working with a trainer from Can Do Canines. But the hard work paid off.

“He’s like a regular guide dog,” Maureen said. “You would never know that these guys don’t normally train guide dogs.”

The other part of Maureen’s support system is Paul, a special guy with special needs of his own. Born with one normal length leg, one shorter and no arms, he drives the family van.

It has a system that lets his foot control the steering wheel, giving them the freedom to go anywhere. And with Maureen as a different kind of backseat driver, they make quite a pair.

“He always says you don’t know how to wave correctly,” says Maureen, with a laugh.

Out of the car, Paul can also be a backseat driver, for a reason. He directs Maureen, a little to the right, a little to the left, when they wheel around without Bentley.

“He’s my eyes, and I’m his hands. Between the two of us, there’s enough working parts to make one person,” said Maureen, as Paul laughed.

They have the power to inspire by doing the simplest of things, but draw their own inspiration from their church, where they are popular regulars. Paul goes on church missions to Haiti, and Maureen writes inspirational music.

She has a couple of successful CDs, with songs recorded by famous local singers like Robert Robinson, and one song, “I Choose You,” was one of the five finalists at a national contest in Charlotte.

While Maureen writes, Paul refs. He’s a fixture at adapted soccer matches — part official, part role model.

Their true love, though, is the Minnesota State Fair, because the Great Minnesota Get Together actually helped bring them together.

“The State Fair was our first date,” said Paul, “and I have to say 35 years later, we have not missed a Fair.”

They actually met many years before that, though. They were both 10, both at Camp Courage, and Paul made a lasting impression.

“It was a contest to see which table in the dining hall ate the most and our table won because he ate 12 boxes of Frosted Flakes,” Maureen said.

They kept running into each other, but dated different people until they were 23. But after that first date at the fair, two years later, they got married.

Maureen survived a freak elevator accident in 1993, and they were both badly injured in a car accident in ’96. In fact, they were worried that they’d have to move to find a handicapped accessible house, until their neighbors stepped in.

“One of the guys looked at me and said you guys are too important to this neighborhood,” Paul said. “We don’t want to lose you.”

After a thousand hours of volunteer work, the house was ready, and its very special residents could stay, never worrying about the past or the future, but always enjoying every minute of the present.

“I try very hard to live that way,” Maureen said, “because we can’t do anything about the future, we don’t know what the future is. And I think worrying about the future keeps people from enjoying what they have now.”

Maureen actually wrote a book about the first dog, Ally, to show kids how service dogs help people who need it. And she and Bentley just graduated with their service dog badges this weekend.

If you’d like to buy the book, or Maureen’s music, check out her website. And for more on service dogs, check out Can Do Canines.

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