After two years of training, 25 furry graduates have earned their wings.
Dogs with Wings, an Edmonton-based charity, is celebrating its 2021 class of service, facility, companionship and breeding dogs. The 25 dogs will soon start their careers helping people, says the charity's CEO.
"It's such a testament to our training program that we have dogs that will be out there in the community working alongside our clients and supporting them," said Miranda Jordan-Smith.
"It transforms their lives and gives people independence, the support that they need to be able to function every day. So we're very proud of that."
Dogs with Wings, which opened in 1996, is celebrating its 25th year of service. This year's graduating class, coincidentally, has 25 dogs — a "total fluke" that just happened to work out, said Jordan-Smith.
The class is made up of seven facility dogs that will be matched with social service agencies, five service dogs for children with autism, five companion dogs, five breeding dogs and three general service dogs.
Dogs with Wings already held a graduation ceremony privately, but shared the ceremony publicly Saturday through its social media pages.
The training program takes two years, so the dogs in the latest class did most of their training during the COVID-19 pandemic. Much like schools shifting to remote learning, the charity had to adjust on the fly to figure out how it could train dogs from afar, said Jordan-Smith.
"It's been a challenge. We had to work very quickly and the team was able to do it. They were able to bridge that gap."
The organization relied heavily on volunteers and staff to continue supporting dogs in their homes, she said.
There were other challenges in terms of engaging in fundraising activities and supporting clients, said Jordan-Smith.
The cost to breed, raise, train and place a dog with a client is about $40,000 over two years, and Dogs with Wings relies on donors, corporate sponsors, fundraising and grants to offset those expenses, the organization said in a news release.
Jordan-Smith is thankful for the generosity people have shown not just during the pandemic, but over the charity's 25 years.
Dogs with Wings is gradually returning to its facility as public health restrictions lift and has set Sept. 1 as its reopening date, she said.