Province increases access to service dogs

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The Alberta government has approved five new organizations to train service dogs across the province.

On Tuesday the government approved the new organization to train, test and certify dogs to keep up with the growing demand.

Service dogs can be used by people with a range of illnesses and conditions, such as PTSD and autism.

Right now wait lists for dogs in Alberta can be two to three years long, but St. Albert resident and chairman of Courageous Companions, John Dugas, said that he hopes that this new move will help reduce wait times.

[The new legislation] kind of removes a lot of barriers for people,” Dugas said.

Courageous Companions is an organization that provides service dogs to help military veterans and first responders. The organization receives around two inquiries a week from people who would qualify for service dogs but they only have the resources to train five to ten dogs per year.

Part of the problem that created such long wait times was the limited amount of certified organizations. The province only had two organizations before the legislation, Dogs with Wings and Pacific Assistance Dogs Society. Now they have added five more: Hope Heels Service Dog Team Building Institute; Canadian Canine Training Corporation; Very Special Paws, Camrose and District Victim Services Society; Red Dog Training Solutions and Courageous Companions.

Before this decision, the organizations were still training the dogs, they were just not officially certified in Alberta and handlers could face restrictions in public places.

With the new move, more dogs will be certified to Alberta’s standards and people who train their own dogs will also be able to have them trained and assessed to become qualified service dogs.

Dugas has had a service dog for three years and said that since getting a dog he has had increased mobility. In the past, Dugas would avoid shopping and going into crowded spaces but now with his dog he is able to do things like go to Costco.

“It just kind of creeps up on you. You just find you don’t like going into those environments because they’re just too busy,” Dugas said.

Although Dugas said that this is a step in the right direction, he said that one of the biggest hurdles to getting a dog is the high cost of the animals.

Each dog at Courageous Companions costs anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000 and they take around one year to train. The organization is a non-profit and its money comes from fundraising.

Dugas said that the next step would be to change the funding model for service dogs in Alberta so more people can have access to the animals.

 

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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.