SPRINGTIME ON CAMPUS

LAURA WATAMANUK, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

As the daffodils come up around the campus, puppies are a’plenty, advanced dogs are enjoying field trips and intensive training, puppy classes have moved into open air, and dogs are moving into life-changing roles.

It’s been a while since we’ve connected with each of you, but we’re thrilled to share that after a couple of intensive years of rebuilding and rapid growth, this has been a year of stabilization.  To say it’s been busy and challenging would be an understatement.

Strengthening our team | Our staff spent a week together, offsite for our first ever team retreat – it was monumental in creating better communication, and moving towards answering big questions. Several times this year our training staff have traveled, gathered, shared and problem solved together in brand new ways. There are no words for how proud I am of the personal and professional growth I’ve seen in this team in the past year.

Strengthening our Systems | Creating processes and systems to better communicate. Emails now come to you via our new donor management software that has (at long last) integrated a whopping 5 systems into 1. Our volunteer portal “The Hydrant” is in the final stages of development, and will integrate many other systems to help our staff and volunteers communicate more effectively.

Building Better Dogs | From our breeding program to our training protocols everything we do is working towards building better, stronger, more reliable working dogs. Our training team has grown to include Ashley as our new apprentice, Tara to support puppy classes each week and we’re in the process of hiring a kennel assistant to free up our trainers to spend more time training. Our staff has traveled to other schools and to learn from each other several times this year.  We’ve developed and implemented new assessment tools that help us set puppies up for success, and to better determine working aptitudes in adult dogs.

Building our Brand | From a new website with monthly updates for every pup in training and dynamic giving opportunities, to new brochures and banners, to our vans driving around town building awareness with powerful graphics, and a long awaited corporate package for our friends in business and industry…we’ve been able to put all the pieces together.

These may not sound like the most exciting things to share, and yet they are essential (and exciting) to our future success!

THE BIG QUESTION

I’ve recently been asked by a few individuals about the number of service dog placements in recent months/years and the status of our closed service dog applications.  Candidly, it weighs heavy on our shoulders, knowing that there are many out there that await a life-changing dog.

Our list is closed because the only thing worse than waiting, is waiting an unreasonably long time.  As you may be aware, PADS went through a major shut down a few years back, and rebuilt from the rubble.  Today, we are excited to be on a new path, with a passionate and talented volunteers and staff, as well as our wonderful dogs.  So why have our numbers been down in terms of service dogs recently? It’s not a simple answer, so bear with me as I try to articulate it.

Great Dogs | When we restarted our breeding program it was done with comprehensive consultation with some of the best in the industry, because ultimately we want a calm, well mannered dog, that can be controlled with voice alone. At the same time this dog must also have the working drive to want to work for a client and repeat skills over and over.  This is not an easy task, it’s a tightrope. It means sometimes we get dogs that aren’t “enough dog” to want to work all day long, and sometimes we get dogs that are way “more dog” than could be managed by someone with a physical disability.

Great Methods | At the same time we made a very intentional shift in our training. Our new methods focus on rewarding good behavior in our dogs, but in many ways these methods are more complex to learn, and new methods means everyone—even our most experienced raisers—became “green” again.  When anything is new, whether it’s riding a bike or training a dog, it takes longer to get from point A to point B.  What remains at the forefront of our minds is that in our shift to new training methods we cannot sacrifice quality of the final working dog, this has required a great deal of work and problem solving on the part of our team, and is an ongoing challenge. However, our expectations of excellence in certified assistance dogs remain very high. We’re so grateful for the extreme dedication of our volunteers and training staff who have worked so hard as we have taken on this worthwhile journey.

The dogs we have today are both are soft and enthusiastic, a combo that requires patience, boundaries and gentleness as we train them. We need to reward strong work ethic in new ways.  This is not an easy, or fast task, because it not only requires new knowledge, but once we have that knowledge we need to instill it into tiny puppies, and take it through the full 2 year cycle before we start seeing the fruit of our labour.

I’m confident at the end of this journey there will be many beautiful dogs for our waiting clients. When we get there it will be worth the wait.  In the meantime, the struggle is real.  For those of us preparing the dogs certainly, but more so for those waiting for a life-changing dog.

How can you help? Continue to raise awareness of our life changing programs. Support our work through one of our current fundraising initiatives (whether that is making a donation, buying a hanging basket or a Westjet Raffle Ticket) or even raising a life changing puppy.

In closing, I hope to see each of you at our upcoming open house on June 4th! I sincerely thank each of you for your ongoing support and belief in PADS.

Warm Regards,

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