Kim Pemberton, Vancouver Sun
VANCOUVER – If you love puppies and don’t mind chewed slippers, accidental spills and spending the next eight to 10 months learning how to raise the perfect dog and then be willing to part with him or her, read on.
Foster families are needed for 13 puppies destined to become assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities or hearing impairments.
The Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS) admits it was a “victim of its own success” after it had a 100-per-cent breeding success rate instead of the usual 75-per-cent success rate. The result is the PADS school is brimming with puppies needing temporary homes. The dogs will be placed this summer with screened individuals or families willing to commit to visiting the Burnaby-based organization once a week to attend puppy classes with their “foster” puppy.
Right now PADS has four-month-old golden retriever Cedar, yellow Labrador Presley, brown Lab Sumi, a black male Lab called Navy and two black Lab siblings — a male named Ozzie and his sister Paddy — needing foster families. Seven more yellow and black Labradors from the “bird litter” will be arriving next week from the breeder. These puppies include black male Labs Raven and Hawk, a yellow Labrador male named Jay, and females Robin, Wren, Lark and Myna.
The litters are given names to help differentiate the puppy groups PADS will eventually have returned to the school for a final 10-month training stage before the dogs are placed with clients.
The payoff, besides the obvious fun that a puppy brings, is knowing the work you do to help train the puppy will possibly help a person with a disability. About 52 per cent of puppies bred by PADS graduate from the intensive training program and are matched with a client. Those who don’t graduate often find other work placement, such as with the police, or are adopted by families of children with special needs.
A child with a physical disability would qualify for an assistance dog that graduated. A dog who doesn’t pass can still make a fine family pet, but would not have the distinctive blue and yellow capes that give them access to go anywhere in people’s daily lives.
If a placement can’t be made, the foster family is offered the chance to adopt the dog.
“Most people understand the larger cause and some are doing it as a prelude to see if a dog can fit into their lifestyle,” said PADS spokeswoman Gail Ferrier, who added there are about 75 “working dogs” now placed with clients. “It’s about matching the dog to the client so they can be a team for life.”
PADS executive director Kevin Pidwerbeski said each dog costs about $50,000 to train, although there is no cost to the foster families who are provided with food and any other dog supplies necessary. The dogs are also seen by a PADS volunteer veterinarian.
All of the money raised to support the organization comes from private donations, with three of the biggest supporters of the non-profit organization being the Royal Canadian Bank, which sponsored an Olympic litter recently, the John Hardy Mitchell Family Foundation and the Donnor Foundation.
“The dogs are always ours under the law. We take that very seriously and ensure the dogs are healthy, happy and socialized. It’s about ensuring our dogs are incredible working dogs,” said Pidwerbeski.
The need for dogs is so great there is a waiting list of six months to two years.