Windara Labrador Retrievers has helped give people with disabilities unconditional love, care and comfort.
June Johnson, a Windthorst dog breeder, has donated four puppies to the West Coast Assistance Teams charity which provides service dogs to clients with physical and intellectual disabilities.
“All of our dogs are donated,” said Sharon Hill, CEO of West Coast Assistance Teams, located in Vancouver. “June has been very kind to us and these puppies will make seven that she’s donated to us.”
Johnson began breeding labs in 1998, and began donating the puppies as service dogs in 2010. She says working in the health care sector motivated her to help people with disabilities.
“They do have wonderful temperaments,” Johnson said of the Labrador breed. “They’re teachable, trainable dogs and their goal in life is to please their master…it just helps give the person total freedom to live a normal life as possible.”
Four years ago, West Coast Assistance expanded their charity by providing service dogs to physically and intellectually disabled clients, as availability of psychiatric service dogs was limited.
Once trained, the dogs are be capable of performing hundreds of commands and tasks for their owners: waking them up in the morning, retrieving items, opening drawers and doors, cuddling, and offering comfort and steadiness in the event of anxiety attacks or instability.
The majority of the Windara puppies are used as psychiatric service dogs and are matched with clients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, agoraphobia (anxiety disorder), and other psychological disabilities/disorders.
One of the Windara puppies is being donated to a war veteran and ex-RCMP member who suffers from PTSD. Hill says the effect of the puppy was immediate.
“He was in our office picking up the puppy and we moved a piece of lumber, it made quite a loud bang, and the man immediately went into a reaction. I picked up his puppy and gave it to him.
“He didn’t say much that day, but he told me later that he could feel himself calming down immediately,” said Hill. “There’s a chemistry that happens. Immediately, there is an emotional connection, a bond and a trust in the partnership and it is strong.”
Before becoming service dogs, the puppies must meet specific criteria, exhibiting affection and solid temperament.
The puppies are aptitude tested at 49 days old and evaluated to determine their social attraction, ability to follow, degree of dominancy or submissiveness, ability to retrieve, degree of sensitivity to sound and sight and stability.
“These dogs- the way they’re raised, they’re trained and they’re with people all the time- it is what they were bred for,” said Hill. “They were bred to have a job to do and they are happiest doing their job.”
Physical service dogs need to be fully trained by a foster family prior to pairing, while puppies used as psychiatric service dogs can be matched with their owner as early as nine months old.
Hill says she prefers to make the match while the puppies are young so the owner can be apart of the training and build a stronger bond early on.
“What I want to achieve with disabled people- as I’m disabled myself- is to help them help themselves. So as much as we’re helping them by giving them dogs, we really do teach them how the dogs are trained, how to keep working at it and how to keep expanding that dog’s abilities.
“It’s really to show the owners that they have abilities, not disabilities.”