Posted by Vi Hughes on Jan 12, 2021
This week we heard from Doreen Slessor, the Executive Director of Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Society. This is a group that breeds and trains service dogs. These dogs are trained to help people with many different disabilities. They primarily help people with sight impairment, people who are wheelchair bound, people with autism and as facility companion (child abuse center) dogs. The dogs are carefully selected for calm, quiet personalities and then are given basic training to behave well in busy public situations. Once they have been assigned to a specific person, they are given training specific to the needs of that person. They can help to pick up objects, lead people safely though busy places, sleep on top of autistic children who tend to wake up a lot at night, or simply to lie calmly while strangers talk to and touch them. These dogs help relieve the worry and stress of living with a disability for both the disabled person and their family.
It takes two years and about forty thousand dollars to train each dog but their clients pay only one dollar. Not all dogs will meet their strict requirements. They belong to the Canadian Association of Guide and Assistance Dog Schools and their dogs are accredited through internationally recognized Assistance Dogs International which ensures that they can travel internationally and on airplanes without issues. They are based in Edmonton, but also have sites in Grande Prairie and Calgary for training. They supply dogs to people throughout BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 2020 they placed twenty dogs and had forty eight puppies brought into the program. Only about sixty percent of the dogs make it through the full training process. If they growl, bark or bite, they fail. They must also be in perfect health. The breed of dog they use most is the Labrador Retriever as they are medium sized, even tempered, are very food motivated, do not get strongly attached to their owners and are relatively easy to care for. All of their dogs live in foster homes while they are in training. They are placed with the client at about two years of age. They work until they are about ten years of age. Dogs with Wings keeps track of their dogs and gives them a senior assessment at age eight to determine how well they are doing. They currently have about one hundred twenty dogs living in the community that are ageing out and will need to be replaced fairly soon. Senior dogs usually stay in their client home after they have been replaced.
Dogs with Wings does not receive government support for their program. They are funded through group and individual donations. They also offer sponsorships where for a donation of ten thousand dollars, the sponsor’s name is displayed on the dog’s harness. We would like to thank Doreen for her very interesting and enlightening presentation.