When Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) had to cancel their largest fundraiser in March due to COVID, they knew it was critical for them to find new ways to raise funds and continue their services.
PADS breeds, raises, and trains assistance dogs to provide life-changing independence to people with disabilities and support communities by working with teachers, psychologists and other professionals. They currently have approximately 200 puppies in training, 600 volunteers across three regions, and 100 ‘teams’ of clients and their assistance dogs that they support.
The success of PADS—especially during the pandemic—has largely depended on the commitment of volunteers who care for, train, and socialize dogs all the way from puppies to when they’re ready for placement. A lot of creativity and hard work from staff has enabled the support and infrastructure needed to ensure everything continues to run smoothly in these rough times
Throughout the pandemic volunteer caretakers have faced the burden of caring for a litter of puppies without the usual help of PADS staff, volunteers or even their friends or family in order to maintain physical distancing guidelines. Volunteer ‘puppy raisers’ were also unable to take puppies out in public in the same way as before, reducing exposure to different environments that is otherwise critical for their training and socialization. Volunteers, staff, and clients could no longer meet regularly in person, disrupting the sense of community fundamental to the culture and operations of PADS.
Through a grant from the Community Response Fund, PADS was able to quickly move all training classes and resources online, with some puppies even demonstrating that they’ve learned to commands over Zoom calls. They also created private Facebook groups for the clients to connect with one another during isolation. They set up drive through pickups for puppies to be handed off from their caretaker to their raisers—an emotional event as one chapter closes for one volunteer and begins for another.
“We rely 100% on donations to fund our programs. The pandemic has had a big impact on our revenue. We’ve seen a significant reduction in funding, but we’ve been fortunate that we didn’t have to stop our services. Stopping is not an option, many of our clients have compromised immune systems, COVID has made them even more isolated and in need of a PADS assistance dog,” says Laura Watamanuk, Executive Director of PADS. “Technology has been important for bringing everyone together and has allowed us to continue training and placing dogs throughout this pandemic. I’m very proud of the team because they have been consistently thinking outside the box about on how to keep operations going.”
The long-term effects are causing the biggest concerns. The breeding program had to be suspended and with only a few litters of puppies born this summer, it will limit the number of puppies that will be in the program down the road. The number of dogs bred this year will result in a critical shortage of assistance dogs two years from now, when there’s already a significant waitlist.
PADS is proud that they’ve made the best of a difficult situation. So far, nine dogs have been successfully placed with clients since COVID began and the pandemic has accelerated PADS’ move to online platforms and the development of new processes that have made their program even stronger.
“The success stories have kept us going. We’ve seen the tremendous effort of our staff, volunteers and donors; because of them we have been able to maintain our high standards of training and placement. Graduating teams has always been the best moments, but today these moments are even sweeter because of how much we had to overcome to make it happen,” says Laura. “As restrictions ease up, our trainers will visit our client’s homes to finalize training and public access testing to become a fully certified team. It might be slow but it’s still happening and it’s very much because of the commitment of our team, volunteers, and donors.”
To ensure these vital services can continue, please consider making a donation directly to PADS.
Vancouver Foundation is proud to support a diverse group of charities supporting people with disabilities through the Community Response Fund. This includes organizations such as Sam Sullivan Disability Foundation, Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture, Mission Association for Community Living, Easter Seals, Richmond Centre for Disability, and posAbilities.