Alberta boosts funding to improve access to trained service dogs

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Alberta boosts funding to improve access to trained service dogs

The provincial government is funding a new pilot project to increase the number of qualified service dogs in Alberta.

Six organizations will split $250,000 to train dogs to international standards and certify previously trained dogs, the government announced Friday.

The province hopes to use the pilot project to create a list of qualified service dog training and testing organizations by August. The organizations will train animals to standards set by Assistance Dog International. 

Samantha Hjalmarson owns a service dog to help her cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, which kept her confined to her home, sometimes for weeks.

She says having dogs trained and tested to international standards can help avoid confrontations in public places.

"Under the Service Dog Act, if you have an access challenge like that, then you can just call the police for mediation," Hjalmarson said. "But under the other legislation, the Human Rights Act, you just have to go home, file a complaint and it can take years to resolve. 

"So if you're just trying to go to the store for groceries, it's not really ideal and you still have to leave any way." 

Long waiting lists

Organizations taking part in the pilot project are Dogs with Wings, Hope Heels Service Dog Team Building Institute, Alpha K9 Canada, St. John Ambulance, Pacific Assistance Dogs Society and Omega Service Dog Testing and Consulting.

Toby Ramsden, president of Dogs with Wings, said higher demand for service dogs has created long waiting lists.

"These waiting lists cause frustration for people hoping for a dog to assist them. These waiting lists have caused frustration for both the providers and the recipients," Ramsden said.

"So we welcome the initiative from the provincial government to support and regulate services dogs."

The pilot project runs from April until August. 

The province also wants the groups to get training from National Service Dogs, a school that trains animals to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.