News / Edmonton

As demand grows quickly, Alberta to allow new organizations train and certify service dogs

Right now people who want dogs to help with things like PTSD and autism can spend years waiting

Conner Modin pictured with his longtime service dog, Tulsa, and a photo of his sister, Meaghan.

Murphy's Law Photography / Metro Web Upload

Conner Modin pictured with his longtime service dog, Tulsa, and a photo of his sister, Meaghan.

For over half his lifetime, 16-year-old Conner Modin has gone nearly everywhere with a black Labrador named Tulsa.

The dog, who turns 11 next month, has acted as a service animal to Conner for almost a decade, helping the autistic teenager with his sensory issues, but also “creating a village” for him, as his mother explains it.

“People accept Conner more with Tulsa, and it has helped him with social skills and self esteem,” Sheryl Modin says. “She’s the one thing he can always count on.”

On Tuesday, the government approved five new organizations to train, test and provide service dogs to Albertans with disabilities. The skyrocketing demand for dogs to help people with things like post-traumatic stress and autism spectrum disorder has far outpaced demand.

People currently in need of service dogs can spend years on the wait list.

In a release, Minister of Community and Social Services Irfan Sabir said the new organizations will train and assess service dogs based on a uniform set of provincial regulations approved this spring.

The province is making $250,000 in grant money available to these organizations, but individuals who want to insure their self-trained dogs meet Alberta standards will also be apply to apply for funding.

John Dugas is the owner of Courageous Companions, one of the organizations that will now be apply to certify service dogs.

He specializes in training PTSD dogs to support first responders and military personnel. The dogs help with tasks like interrupting self-harming behaviour, reminding a handler to take medication and guiding them away from stressful situations.

“Today’s legislation is a big step forward. It removes barriers for people with PTSD and decreases wait times, which have been two to three years,” says Dugas.

Edmonton-based Dogs with Wings (which provided Conner with Tulsa) is a province-wide leader in assistance dog training. Executive Director Doreen Slessor says service dogs empower people with freedom and independence, and also help reduce anxiety.

It takes about $40,000 to train a dog, Slessor says, but she’s adamant everyone who needs one should have access to an animal.

“We see the difference in people’s lives, whether it’s a guide, facility or companion dog. But the need remains high—we have 19 on the autism wait list right now,” she said.

As Tulsa gets ready to retire—most dogs work until they’re about 10—Sheryl said they’re preparing to get back on the waiting list, though since Connor would be looking to replace a dog, he'd be considered higher priority.

“Tulsa did more than we ever thought she could,” she said, adding that when she stops working she’ll stay on as pampered pet.

“She has been a godsend.”

The new organizations allowed to certify service dogs:

Hope Heels Service Dog Team Building Institute

Canadian Canine Training Corp.

Very Special Paws Camrose and District Victim Services Society

Red Dog Training Solutions

Courageous Companions

What makes a certified service dog different?

- to qualify, service dogs must meet certain standards regarding skills and behaviour to ensure it meets the needs of its owner and can safely interact with the public.

- Most undergo up to two years of training

- qualified service dogs can be identified by the harness and equipement unique to each organization

- it is a criminal offence to deny access for people use qualified dogs to any public place

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