Certified PADS Dogs supporting wellness and social integration
Reprinted from the Recovery: Living Your Bestish Life issue of Visions Journal, 2022, 17 (4), pp. 20-22
For many of us, dogs are our best friends. For others among us, they are partners that help lead us into a life of recovery and independence. The Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) is a non-profit organization that breeds, raises and trains fully certified assistance dogs. PADS (pads.ca) is a fully accredited member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI). This gives many of our graduate teams full public access rights under provincial legislation, allowing them entry into public areas where, under normal circumstances, animals are not permitted.
The PADS program focuses on four types of placements. This article will focus on two: PTSD Service Dogs and Accredited Facility Dogs.
PTSD Service Dogs
Currently about 9% of Canadians live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).1 The PADS PTSD program supports first responders and military personnel with PTSD or complex PTSD by training dogs to help with wellness and social reintegration.
Dogs selected for this program show a natural ability to respond positively to human emotions, such as stress, anxiety and fear, and enjoy working mostly with one person. The dog lives with the client full time and is trained to interrupt physical signs, such as hand wringing or leg movements, that may indicate onset of panic attacks, flashbacks or nightmares. The dog also learns to ease symptoms of hypervigilance, which is when people become preoccupied by possible threats. For example, the dog will place their body close to the client, standing beside them in crowds or store line-ups so the client can pet the dog and ground themselves.
The PADS team strives to match applicants with a PTSD dog that has complimentary temperament traits and similar activity levels. For example, if an applicant lives an active lifestyle, the team looks for a dog that enjoys an urban lifestyle with higher levels of physical activity. However, if the applicant lives a more subdued, less physically active life, the team looks for potential matches in dogs that prefer a slower-paced environment. An extensive interview process allows the team to understand the needs of the client from the start and make the best possible match, and a trial period follows each match.
Since the program’s inception in 2018, PADS has certified 13 PTSD dogs and maintains a relationship with each team. Client feedback shows PADS leads to a significant easing of PTSD symptoms, less depressive symptoms, less need for medications, better sleep and a return to—or even expansion of—past activities. As PADS client Tonya S. says, “Since Kylo came into my life, the world has opened up. Not only can I leave the house without panic attacks and anxiety, he’s made every part of my life better.”
Accredited Facility Dogs
While PTSD service dogs prefer to work with one person, the dogs PADS selects for the Accredited Facility Dog (AFD) program enjoy a social connection with multiple people and are drawn to those seeking comfort.
PADS places dogs with professionals, like teachers, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and physiotherapists, who assist people with various life transitions, including recovery from illness and substance use, life transitions, trauma, learning challenges, grief, pain, loss and health challenges.
AFD dogs help people release emotions in healthy ways. Just like the people who work in these professional roles, they are very special, resilient and flexible. These dogs are also suitable for high-stress work environments. PADS provides AFDs for support, comfort and aid in three main categories: justice, education, and health and wellness.
Justice support: The Justice Facility Dog program was founded in 2010 with the placement of PADS dog Caber with Kim Gramlich of the Delta Police Department’s victim services. Until Caber’s retirement in 2019 this ground-breaking team provided support for victims of crime and trauma throughout the entire criminal process. The project created a framework for agencies across the country and was integral to the formation of Justice Facility Dogs Canada,2 a non-profit committed to the education of professionals working with AFDs in justice settings.
In 2016 Vancouver Police Department crisis intervention specialist Sue Baker was matched with PADS dog Lucca. Sue recounts that one of the victims Lucca worked with reflected that being able to pat him, look at him and even rest her feet beside him while testifying in court helped her tremendously. The constant physical connection to Lucca was a welcome reminder that she was not alone as she told her difficult story.
Educational support: PADS education teams work in school districts across western Canada and provide emotional support for students of all ages. At Mountainside Secondary, an alternative school in North Vancouver, PADS dog Dervish welcomes students in the halls and helps them feel safe and calm at school. Dervish’s handler Mary remarks that he is a valued member of their counselling team and often provides comfort to students having difficulty with their schoolwork or experiencing panic attacks.
Health and wellness support: Health and wellness teams can be found in many settings, such as hospices or crisis centres. PADS dog Gaia and her handlers, Camara Van Breemen and Brenda Dewar, work at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. With the help of her handlers, Gaia brings love and joy into the lives of children receiving end-of-life care and offers support and care to their families as they face grief and loss.
This year PADS celebrates our 35th anniversary. Having been part of the organization for over 20 years, I have seen many changes over the years. However, what has remained consistent is the group of dedicated volunteers and donors that has made the organization what it is today. We could not place these life-changing dogs without these countless dedicated volunteers, supporters and donors. Together they have helped us get PADS Accredited Facility Dogs in classrooms, courthouses and hospitals, providing a source of comfort in the soft eyes and warm fur of a dog.
About the author
Margaret is the training program manager for Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS). She has trained life-changing assistance dogs for over 20 years and ensures each dog finds their perfect match. Outside of work Margaret raises honeybees and two teenage boys on the west coast of BC with her husband Bruce
- Van Ameringen, M., Mancini, C., Patterson, B., & Boyle, M.H. (2008). Post-traumatic stress disorder in Canada. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 14(3), 171–81. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1755-5949.2008.00049.x.
- Visit justicefacilitydogs.ca.