A service dog organization is hoping some Central Albertan residents will be willing to open their homes and hearts to puppies during the coming year.
The Dogs with Wings charity is looking for local volunteers to raise one of four or five puppies for 12 to 14 months, which will eventually be trained to help someone in need of a service dog.
The Edmonton-based organization first asked for volunteers from Central Alberta last year and the program went so well organizers decided to continue and expand it this year.
Dogs with Wings is a charitable organization that trains dogs for people who are blind, people in wheelchairs or with mobility issues, those with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and children with autism.
John Wheelwright, executive director of Dogs with Wings, said they’re looking for volunteers who are interested in having a dog as part of their lives who are interested in assisting Dogs with Wings change somebody’s life, but who may not want to keep a dog for 10 to 14 years.
He said the puppies will be ready to go into volunteers’ homes as of the new year so anyone interested should contact the organization right away.
Volunteers don’t need past experience with dogs. Dogs with Wings will cover all of the training for the volunteers, food, equipment and vet bills for the dogs.
He said often people wonder how someone can give up a dog after raising it for a full year or more, but he said once they see the difference the dog makes in the life of someone who really needs it then people are convinced.
Each year the organization has a graduation ceremony for the dogs going to their new families and each of the clients being helped talk about what the dog means for them and their independence.
“Once you see a graduation and once you hear the story from the client’s mouth as to how this dog has changed their life there is no more question if you are at all civic minded,” Wheelwright said.
It takes two years to train one of the Labrador retrievers or golden-lab crosses used by the Dogs with Wings program. It costs $30,000 to train each dog, but the organization fund raises so that there is no cost to their clients. There will be 15 dogs trained and given to clients in the coming year.
Wheelwright said they don’t make any snap judgements on what a dog’s skills will be. He said they look at what clients needs and the dogs’ talents, but then they also try to match personality and working style of the dog to the client. “It’s part science, but it’s part art how we match a dog to a particular client,” Wheelwright said.
He said because the dogs are covered under the service dogs legislation people training them are entitled to take them everywhere.
Volunteers do basic obedience training made up of basic obedience skills and exposure to things like the grocery store, movie theatre, doctor’s office and even on the plane.
“We encourage our volunteers to be as active as they can with the puppies because the more these puppies see in the training the better adjusted they are going to be later on,” Wheelwright said.
Elisa Irlam started the organization in 1996 and it has expanded over the years. To donate, volunteer or learn more about Dogs with Wings phone 780-944-8011, e-mail email@example.com or go to the website at www.dogswithwings.ca.