News / Edmonton

Edmonton service dogs learn a new trick—taking your donations

Dogs with Wings will be deploying Tap Dogs to city events this summer to raise badly-needed donations.

Axel, an accredited service dog, is Dogs with Wings' first Tap Dog.

Supplied/Dogs with Wings

Axel, an accredited service dog, is Dogs with Wings' first Tap Dog.

Dogs with Wings is deploying a new crack fundraising team in Edmonton tasked with raising badly need funds—and sitting, shaking and occasionally, high-fiving. 

The organization’s new Tap Dogs are trained service dogs wearing special vests equipped with contactless payment devices that allow them to accept $10 donations from interested humans.

Dogs with Wings is currently one of four groups in Canada that train recognized service dogs, and executive director Doreen Slessor said they’re currently facing such overwhelming demand they had to close their waiting list to new applicants.

“There are families who are desperately doing anything to get these dogs,” Slessor said, including paying out of pocket for one from a non-accredited school. “We feel bad for the people are who are spending for dogs that might not be suitable in the end.”

Hence the new four-legged fundraising team, currently headed by Labrador retriever Axel, who will soon be showing up to events across the city.

“Our dogs are literally the heart and soul of what we do, so why can’t they be the heart and soul of our new campaign?” Slessor said.

 “And we’re a cashless society now so we need to be versatile in how people are able to give.”

Dogs with Wings partnered with ATB on the dog’s vests, which are equipped with ‘tap’ technology, so anyone with an enabled bank card can touch their card to the dog to donate a pre-set amount of $10, though Slessor said the human handlers can change the value if requested.

Slessor said the Tap Dogs will also be a good opportunity to pet a service dog—normally a no no with working animals—and learn about what they do.

“People always want to pet our dogs, so it’s about community education that you never distract a working service dog,” she said, “but our Tap Dogs are special service dogs, so you’re welcome to pat and tap our dogs.”

But while the messengers may be cute, the financial need is real, Slessor said. The organization is facing a growing demand for dogs to support people with autism, and the dogs trained a decade ago are retiring and need to be replaced.

Each of their dogs gets an average of two years of training, and costs the organization about $40,000 over their lifetime. Dogs with Wings gives their dogs for a $1 lease fee to clients that need them, she said, so they rely heavily on donations.

They’ve recently closed applications until they’re able to meet the needs of their current waiting list—there are 50 clients in line to get dogs specifically trained to do guide, facility or service work.

Slessor estimates they need to raise $1.5 million to reopen the list.

“It’s been heartbreaking to us,” she said.

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