Puppy love

Dogs With Wings Assistance Dog Society is a leader in the international community of assistance dog training schools. 

ATB Financial is a big fan of Dogs With Wings. In fact since last year, our President & CEO, Dave Mowat, has been fostering Vaughn, a black lab who will soon be trained to work with non-verbal autistic children. 

Read three amazing stories of how dogs changed the lives of these inspiring Albertans.

And learn more about Dogs with Wings or how you can volunteer.


Jackson and RamsayA Blessing in Disguise

“That was our unreal moment. When I was like, oh my god, our dog just potty-trained our son.”

Those are the words of Angela Rathwell. Her son, Jackson, now eight years old, was diagnosed with autism when he was three. Their family grew by one dog when Ramsay joined them, freshly graduated from Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Sociey, when Jackson was seven.

“When we heard there was such a thing as an autism service dog, I started doing research. It seemed to fit with Jackson’s safety issues, and who knew what else success it could bring. Even peace of mind in the future. One day I won’t be here, but Jackson will hopefully have a buddy, so he’ll never be alone,” Rathwell said.

Jackson continues to have some issues with verbal communication. When he was little, he wouldn’t hold his mother’s hand to cross the street. So Angela held one end of a leash and Jackson held the other and that was how they crossed the street together safely.

By the time he was seven, Jackson still wasn’t potty-trained. Angela says that was the big win for their family.

“Ramsay goes to the bathroom on command. The moment we got Ramsay, I could see Jackson tilt his head and watch him go. So I gave Jackson the leash, and said, you can tell your dog to go to the bathroom. That was very empowering for him,” Rathwell said.

After years of home therapy and potty training specialists, Jackson came up to his mother at the dinner table after seeing Ramsay use his backyard toilet and asked if he could use his toilet. Angela “grabbed a glass of wine, sat on the floor—and a little tinkle happened. I thought, oh, you’re kidding me. That was it, he was potty-trained, and he never looked back.”

Rathwell says that Ramsay helps the public understand that Jackson has specific needs. Where before, people might wonder why a six year old boy was drinking from a bottle, now they see the dog in a vest there with him and it’s a signal that there’s something invisible going on.

“For me, as a parent, those looks, those judgments, they don’t exist anymore. It’s almost an immediate soft, compassionate public now towards you. And it’s not something just the parent feels, I’m sure Jackson feels it too,” Rathwell said.

Rathwell emphasized that Dogs with Wings has been a true blessing for them.

“It took many people to really love these dogs with their whole heart, to pour love and patience into these puppies, it’s an incredible sacrifice. We want to share our success stories so the puppy raisers and adult raisers can see that it did make a difference in someone’s life. It’s really huge.”

Bob and HarrisA man's best friend

Harris can do a lot of things, but ultimately, he’s just a great friend.

Harris is Bob Lanman’s dog. They became family this past October.

“My dog is an extremely good companion. Dogs just give you a feeling of calmness.”

Lanman is retired now, but before that, he taught high school biology. For the last nine years of his teaching career, he taught blind.

“I didn’t think it would be fair to have a dog with me in the classroom, so I waited until I finished teaching to fill out the application,” he said.

That application, which his sister sent him after finding out about Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Society, was fulfilled in 2006, when Lanman got his first Dogs with Wings dog. Harris is his second dog.

“Having Harris makes me more independent. I don’t have to depend on anyone to take me to do my errands. I can get out and go for walks. No one’s going to complain about that because I can convince my dog to go with me quite easily,” Lanman joked.

Aside from Harris helping him with getting around town, Lanman said there are social benefits to having a dog as well.

“I used to use a cane and unless people on the street knew you, they would avoid speaking to you. It was like you had the plague or Ebola or something like that,” he said.

“People are quite attracted to dogs, so they’ll come talk to you. Primarily they talk to the dog, unless you answer for the dog, then they realize you’re there. Then people will speak to you and ask you about the dog and tell you they used to have a dog just like him.”

Dogs with Wings, Lanman said, is a fantastic organization to have in Alberta. Not only are they great at raising and training dogs, but they can train the people who eventually own them in their own local, home environments.

“Because they’re local, they can train you on the routes you normally take so the dog is familiar with them and you don’t get lost,” he said.

Lanman summed up with a chuckle, “Dogs with Wings staff know the dogs very well, so they try to match the personalities of the dogs with those of the clients. So usually the dogs and clients don’t fight that much.”

Michelle and LucyThe strong silent type

“The challenges are me.”

Michelle Hauser is the program coordinator for Camrose Victim Services Unit. She and Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Society graduate Lucy have been together for more than two years and in that time the learning curve has been more for the human’s sake.

“A great example of how well-trained she is: I can take her and put her in our soft interview room and tell her to stay. I’ll go back to my office and it’s only been once in all the time we’ve had her that she decided that she’d come out of the room, and again it was my fault. I hadn’t been doing it regularly enough, and not gonna lie, I got busy at my desk and forgotten so, a couple hours later she came looking for me,” recalls Michelle.

Lucy plays an integral role in supporting and comforting crime victims of all ages in the Camrose district so that they have a tangible, silent companion that can help them find their voice when dealing with the challenges they may face. Many times, it isn’t even the obvious victim that needs Lucy’s presence to help them cope.

“She’s so quiet and so lovable. She has an uncanny sense of who needs her the most. Sometimes it’s not even the young victim that needs her, it’s the parent. So, she’ll wander over and sit at their feet. It’s amazing,” says Hauser.

That cool, collected and comforting personality has led Lucy to become a popular and sought after companion in some interesting ways. Michelle laughingly recalls a particular instance in Bashaw, Alberta where Lucy was in demand:

“In Bashaw, they had a young lady come in for an interview and she didn’t quite understand that she was a victim. So, the police officer was talking to her and all of a sudden [the victim] says: ‘whoa whoa whoa. Am I a victim?’ And the police officer says: ‘we’re trying to determine that’ and she says: ‘well aren’t you supposed to be offering me Lucy?’”

She’s become a positive and familiar sight in and around Camrose and has had a profound impact on victims and residents alike.

“Lucy totally fits our city, [and] the acceptance that people have found around here for [her] is amazing. She’s known as our heart healer,” says Hauser.

It’s hard to imagine that a chance internet search for new ideas would lead to a partnership that has become vital in helping a community support its crime victims, but that’s Lucy and Michelle’s story.

“This program has surpassed anything we’d ever dreamed of.”

August 31st, 2015

ATB supports Dogs With Wings

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