Tuesday, 21 May 2024

B.C. service dog trainers hope to clear up confusion around therapy dogs

BC Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has agreed to meet with concerned service dog trainers.

Professional service dogs are highly trained animals that provide vital assistance to individuals with specials needs. But in recent years there has been a surge in the number of so- called “therapy dogs.”

Some go through legitimate therapy dog programs at St. John Ambulance and other agencies. But many dog owners are simply purchasing harnesses and certificates online.

Laura Watamanuk is Executive Director of Pacific Assistance Dogs (PADS), one of just three agencies in B.C. approved to certify service dogs. She says the confusion between service dogs and therapy dogs is “very frustrating for our industry because we’re representing it and putting out a professional service.”

Last week Global BC reported how a teacher’s dog bit a special needs child at New Westminster Secondary. The school claimed the dog had a therapy certificate.

“I think that school boards, regulatory bodies…if they’re wanting to introduce dogs into that environment, they have to go to the professionals,” Watamanuk said.

Farnworth also has his concerns, saying “what we are seeing in jurisdictions across the country, in fact globally, are companion animals. And there is often a lack of understanding between the two and that is causing challenges.”

Farnworth has agreed to meet with service dog trainers and operators. That meeting expected to take place in November, when the industry will push for a public education campaign to clarify the differences between service dogs and therapy dogs.

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