PRATT — All the riders in Barb Prater's special vehicle have four paws and wagging tails, and each morning, when it's time to get on the bus, bystanders best just get out of the way.
Monkey, a black wavy-haired, heavy-fronted affenpinscher is serious as she takes her place in the front of the line. The other dogs mill around behind her, no cuts allowed.
Charlie, a black lab mix, is perpetual motion in action, hopping, bopping and anxious to get going to see the world. Most mornings, he has been waiting on the bench by the front door of Ron and Barb Prater's home Pratt, watching and waiting for the magic words, "Get on the bus," which signify the most exciting part of his day.
Hadley, a dalmatian-terrier-schnauzer mix, and Taco, a tan chihuahua with a tongue that hangs out the side of his mouth, make a lot of noise scrambling out the front door (where a sign clearly notes that "There are a lot of dogs in here."). They bark at the cats, bump into the other dogs and carry on with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Only Tony, an older brindle-colored catahoula, is quiet as he makes his way through the melee to get on the bus, claiming his front row seat and waiting dignified and sedate as the other passengers find their seats and get settled.
And then they are off, on a special bus, with special riders, made possible by a special lady with a heart for dogs.
"I've always loved dogs, all my life," Prater said. "My daughter even made me this special shirt that says, 'Yes, I really need all these dogs.'"
Prater, who serves on the board of the Pratt Area Human Society, is a regular volunteer there, walking the dogs, fostering those who need special attention before being adopted out, and then, rescuing several that came up on their life time-limit at the shelter with nowhere else to go.
"I've had Tony the longest," Prater said. "He actually came out of the Greensburg tornado in 2007 and we could never find his owner. He was so traumatized that he ran away from whomever tried to adopt him. We finally decided to keep him with our family and now we call him the most well-educated dog ever because he went with my son Jonathan to welding school, then he went with Daniel to UNC and Colorado University. We joke that he has several degrees."
Monkey was found in a dumpster behind Taco Delite in Pratt. After she stayed unadopted several long months in the shelter, Prater took her home and made her part of the family.
Prater said that Hadley became a permanent fixture in the family after her original owner died. An elderly gentleman adopted her until he had to move to a retirement center. Prater took Hadley home after she had become a long-timer at the shelter.
"She is just the best dog, really loves people," Prater said. "I just couldn't stand that she had to live in the shelter, so she came home with us."
Getting to ride the dog bus is like a mini-vacation every day for Prater's dogs. Sometimes they go to the groomers, sometimes they go to the park, but most often they go across town to the Pratt Oil and Gas offices, where they visit Ron and his constant companion dog, Sugar, another chihuahua rescue. And it is all conveniently close to the Pratt Area Humane Society where Barb likes to drop in for a visit.
The bus they all ride in once belonged to the Abundance Harvest Church of the Nazarene. Prater bought it from a local car dealer and uses it regularly to haul her pets around town.