Changing lives, one puppy at a time: Dogs With Wings celebrates newest grad class

A now graduated service dog poses for a photo alongside their new partner (CTV News Edmonton/Brandon Lynch).

Twenty-five new service dogs and their families celebrated the achievement of graduating as accredited service animals Sunday.

Dogs With Wings celebrated the occasion with a luncheon and ceremony to help recognize the new service animals and all the volunteers, staff, and vulnerable individuals who now have the help they need for a better quality of life.

Emily Hendsbee, Dogs With Wings acting director of client services and canine operations, said each service dog receives two years of training, and only around 35 per cent of animals make it to the end stage of training.

"We transformed the lives of 25 families here today," Hendsbee said. "It takes quite a lot of work and training to become a service dog.

"Today was a celebration of our volunteers who have put hundreds of hours into these dogs, our clients who are so deserving of their lives being changed, and our sponsor and donors that make it financially possible for us as a non-profit," she added.

To properly train each service dog, Hendsbee said it costs around $40,000, with families who need one only having to pay $1.

"These dogs do incredible things for their families," she said. "(That's why) we are so thankful for our volunteers and donors."

Mason Lam's son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. The family enrolled in Dogs With Wings program to help his son with social interaction.

"(We were able to) interact an animal into his life that really helped change his dynamic as he interacts with other kids his age and other individuals in general as he tries to integrate into society, which is already hard enough for kids on the spectrum," Lam said.

Throughout the training process, Lam said the newest member of their family, Kyle, a golden retriever-lab mix, has already immensely helped his son.

"With dogs, it really breaks down a lot of the barriers because now you are interacting with an animal that doesn't necessarily give the same type of feedback or judgement, in certain cases," he added.