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‘Love, time, care and effort’: Service dogs celebrated at Sunday graduation party

More than a dozen specially trained service dogs graduated Sunday.

Dogs with Wings, a non-profit organization providing guide dogs across Canada, held a graduation ceremony for its most recent class of canine helpers.

Danika Power has been raising three-year-old labrador retriever Charger for a year, teaching him how to be the best autism service dog possible for his new owner.

“He might be trained how to lay on them if they’re feeling discomfort,” she said. “If they’re feeling stress, he can lay on them and do a squish, which means he pushes into their chest with (his) head until they’re feeling calm.”

Hundreds of people gathered in west Edmonton to support Charger and 15 other graduating service dogs. Power said it was a “proud dog mom moment.”

“It is very hard though to give up an animal, because you are attached to them,” she said. “But you think, ‘OK, this is why I’m doing it – to make a difference, to make someone’s life better.

“And so seeing him today on stage graduating with his cap gown with his family – that means a lot to me.”

Danika Power and three-year-old Charger, an autism service dog, at the Dogs with Wings graduation ceremony on May 26, 2024. (Adel Ahmed/CTV News Edmonton)
According to Dogs with Wings, it takes around $40,000 and between two and three years to breed, raise, train and home an assistance dog.

“There’s a lot of training that we put into these dogs, there’s a lot of love, time, care and effort that we put into them,” training program manager Piera Angotti said.

That love and care, Angotti said, makes these ceremonies bittersweet moments for many of the Dogs with Wings staff who also care for the animals before they’re homes.

“It’s really incredible and as hard as it is to say goodbye to the dogs, seeing them with their final person … it’s full circle, and it makes me feel good about what we do here,”

In its 27 years, Dogs with Wings has placed more than 200 assistance dogs.

For more information, visit the Dogs with Wings website.

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