They put in long hours, sometimes in difficult or dangerous conditions, for no pay. They’re focused, hard-working and loyal. They bring joy and help to thousands of people – some even save lives. They’re Canada’s working canines, and they run the gamut from personal assistance pooches to detection, avalanche and search and rescue dogs. Let’s salute some of these heroic canines!
WISER ~ Avalanche Dog
Avalanches are terrifying and can happen without warning. Our warming climate means they’re becoming more common, but dogs like eight-year-old Wiser, along with his handler Kyle Hale of the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association in Golden, British Columbia, are ready to leap into action and save lives when they happen.
“We are one of three operational avalanche rescue dog teams that work for the Mountain Safety Team at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, and also volunteer to respond to avalanche rescue calls through Golden and District Search and Rescue,” says Kyle.
“Wiser and I are trained to respond in difficult winter mountain terrain to search for and rescue people buried in avalanches. Wiser can detect buried human scent and cover large areas very quickly, locating people who are buried metres deep. We respond to dozens of operational callouts each season and Wiser has been involved in many large responses.”
SADIE ~ Autism Service Dog
Thanks to a specially trained Labrador Retriever named Sadie, life has become a lot easier for Ellen Davidson, a nine-year-old with autism who lives with her family in Belleville, Ontario.
Trained by Autism Dog Services, Sadie has become the little girl’s best friend as well as her service dog. “Ellen’s confidence and self-esteem have increased tremendously,” says her mother, Jennifer.
“She can take Sadie with her wherever she goes, including school. Sadie is like a social magnet and helps bridge the social gap between Ellen and her classmates. People are always approaching Ellen to ask her about her dog. This gives her practise with conversation skills and helps improve her social abilities. And above all else, Sadie has made Ellen very happy! It’s heart-warming to see the smile on Ellen’s face when she is playing with Sadie.”
ASHTON ~ Airport Detector Dog
Known for their superb sense of smell, Beagles like detector dog Ashton are ideal for any kind of work that requires sniffing something out. Along with his handler, Nicole Bussanich of the Canadian Borders Services Agency, Ashton was recently responsible for “a significant seizure of three live birds that had been hidden in wooden crates in a passenger’s carry-on luggage,” says Maja Graham, media spokesperson for CBSA.
Throughout the passenger’s arrival, Ashton kept drawing Nicole’s attention to the luggage. “Upon examination of the carry-on, three wooden boxes were seen moving and the birds were discovered. The traveler did not possess the required permits to transport the birds. This seizure was significant as the birds are a threat to Canadian habitat through foreign disease and pests.”
AKITA ~ Wheelchair Assistance Dog
Life in a wheelchair can be difficult and frustrating, but for Al Nicolls of Ancaster, Ontario, assistance from his Standard Poodle Akita makes things run much more smoothly. Trained by the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, Akita is five years old, and helps Al with dozens of the daily tasks most of the rest of us take for granted.
“She picks up various items from the floor, including pill bottles, remote controls, glasses and wallets,” says Al. “I once dropped my car keys on the ground and Akita saved me from getting out of the car, unloading my wheelchair and transferring into it, picking up my keys and then getting back into the car. A big help! She comes everywhere with me, including airplanes, buses and trains. Sometimes she even comes sailing with me!”
SHADOW ~ Landmine Detection Dog
Few jobs are more dangerous than detecting landmines, but some working dogs excel at it. One example is two-year-old black German Shepherd Shadow. His training began in Canada, and was completed in Kosovo as part of the acclimatization to his task.
“Shadow was trained to detect landmines,” says his trainer, Sid Murray. “Having realized how thorough and sensitive a nose he has, the standard operating procedures I worked under stated that upon his completion of checking the landmine box, I had to walk in the box that he cleared. We worked for a Canadian company based in Ottawa, and Shadow was subsequently purchased by the Halo Trust and works for them in Angola, South Africa.”
The Halo Trust is a non-profit that specializes in removing hazardous war debris, including landmines, in many countries around the world.
BARAK ~ Cadaver Dog
When Pisco, Peru was hit by a massive earthquake in 2007, Glen Turpin and his German Shepherd, Barak, members of the Ontario Volunteer Emergency Response Team, set out for the region from their home base in Oshawa to search for people killed in the disaster.
“Barak is a cadaver dog, trained to locate human remains on land, water and in buildings as well as collapsed structures,” says Glen. “Most of the city had been affected and there was little in the way of canine response. We attended as a small specialized search team and spent ten days working in this area, with teams from Spain, Columbia, Mexico and Peru. After we cleared structures for live victims, the efforts turned to recovery. Barak was responsible for locating a family in a hotel.”
FLICKA ~ PTSD Service Dog
Horrific abuse as a child left Andrew Sprague struggling with symptoms of complex posttraumatic stress disorder that worsened in adulthood. But now he has a canine partner to give him support and help. Trained by National Service Dogs, Flicka, a Golden Retriever, is a skilled and certified companion dog.
“She has been trained to assist me with a number of things, including the management of dissociative episodes, hyper-vigilance and affect regulation,” explains Andrew. “She has also actually been trained to give me hugs when I ask for them. I struggle with my emotions, so to have a safe, focused, and present companion that is always there for me is huge. From the moment I was first matched with Flicka, my quality of life has noticeably improved. She is always with me, and is a key figure in my ongoing recovery.”
KINJO ~ Search and Rescue Dog
“She’s as high drive as they come,” says Paul Ogden of his canine partner Kinjo, a 19-month-old black Labrador Retriever. The pair lives in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and work as a search and rescue team. “She is trained on human scent,” explains Paul, adding that Kinjo’s parents are champion hunting dogs out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“She lives to work. The second she is out of the vehicle, her nose is to the ground and she’s waiting for the search command. Kinjo loves air scenting and ranges up to half a mile, quickly covering a lot of ground while still responding to whistle commands. She definitely lives up to her nickname ‘The Black Tornado’!”