story by Kim Pemberton, The Vancouver Sun

CANADA – Two recent grads from a service dog academy have meaningful jobs helping suicidal and grief-stricken youths heal. The dogs are part of the Victim Services Unit of the police department.

Two recently trained therapy dogs are already making a huge impact with youth just one day after graduating – Caber, a two-year-old Labrador, comforted fellow students of slain North Delta teenager Laura Szendrei, while another therapy dog, Toby, was working alongside a psychologist counselling teenagers at risk of suicide in a Port Moody hospital.

Caber is Canada’s first Canine Assistance Intervention dog to be assigned to a police department’s Victims Services Unit. The Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS), which trained Caber, and the Delta Police had kept her name under wraps for months even though she had been working already with the police department. Their public relations department initially planned to hold a press conference Monday to present her to media. But that coming-out event was postponed when her services were needed elsewhere. She was re-assigned Monday and Tuesday to Szendrei’s school, Burnsview Secondary, where she comforted the slain youth’s friends. You can read my colleague Kim Bolan’s full story here on Caber’s role in helping students deal with their grief.

Also, helping youth this week was another PADS graduate – a little Sheltie named Toby. When a youth is suicidal it’s not always easy for an adult to reach them and get them to talk about their state of mind. But Toby is doing just that since starting his new career alongside psychologist and at-risk youth counselor Cindy Morrison, who works for the Fraser Health Authority. She has been taking Toby into the youth crisis program at the Eagle Ridge Hospital, in Port Moody, for the past six months after getting the therapy dog from PADS. She too officially graduated Sunday.

“Toby has a really calming effect on youth. When they’re anxious or suicidal most of the times they’ll open up to me when he’s there,”said Morrison, adding Toby is also having an effect on staff. “One hundred per cent of the staff love him. He brings people together,” she said.

The majority of PADS service dogs are Labradors or Golden Retrievers but Toby, actually it’s Toby II because PADS already had another dog named Toby, is a Sheltie.

He was donated by PADS senior puppy trainer Sharon Andriash, who professionally breeds and raises Shelties as show dogs and companion dogs. She has done very well in competitions and currently shows Toby’s two-year-old sister Cailidh (her registered champion name, under the Canadian Kennel Club, is Ashwyn Kaluah Kiss.) Cailidh just won best of breed in group at a recent North American-wide competition in Washington, to name just one of her many awards. I point this out because it’s obvious that Toby, who was one of five in the litter, had great potential himself considering his breeding to do well in dog competitions had he not been donated.

Asked why she donated a Sheltie to PADS, Andriash said “I think it’s more than a worthwhile cause. Shelties have the personality and intelligence to do well as a canine assistance intervention dog,” she said. And regarding Toby specifically, she added, “he’s absolutely sweet and loves everybody.” It’s a temperament that is sure to serve him well in his new career helping at risk youth.