January 15th, 2021

Compassionate companions – new service dog being introduced for Lethbridge Victim Services

By Yoos, Cam on March 30, 2020.

Herald file photo by Ian Martens RCMP Victim Services Dog Madison waits for the end of class after participating with criminal justice students in a mock trial exercise at Lethbridge College. A new service dog for Lethbridge Victim Services is being introduced to fill a retirement spot. @IMartensHerald

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald


An Alberta non-profit organization has been assisting families throughout Lethbridge over the last few years by providing service dogs in a variety of areas, and they have introduced a new service dog for Lethbridge Victim Services.

Dogs With Wings (DWW), based out of Calgary, works around the clock to breed, raise and train yellow and black Labradors to be used as service dogs for a variety of needs and assistance.

“Dogs with Wings breeds, raises, trains and places the dog and that whole process is approximately two years,” says Kim Zahara, fund development co-ordinator.

“Obviously if we have a client that needs some specific training with the dog, it might extend their training period for perhaps an additional six months, but typically a dog is placed by the time they are two years old.

“We don’t receive any sustainable government funding at all, we rely entirely on the generosity of private donors, corporate donors and sponsorships and fundraising events. We do always apply for grants, we don’t always get them but it is part of a way we can generate revenue.”

Dogs with Wings focuses on helping individuals who are isolated or restricted from doing basic daily tasks and are used for a variety of people such as physically disabled, children with autism and emotional support.

“We have four areas that we specialize in. We train our dogs to be service dogs for people with a physical disability such as someone in a wheelchair. We also train specifically for children with autism,” says Zahara.

“We also specialize in our companion dogs who have all the same great skills that each of the other dogs have. The difference is companion dogs do not go out in public, and we train facility dogs who will work in places like the Lethbridge Victim Service Unit or quite often they are assisting in courtrooms when children are testifying, because parents or guardians are not allowed to take the stand with their child if they testify, but the judge in the courtroom will allow a dog to accompany the child at the stand and that is because the dog is never going to encourage or affect the testimony from the child.”

Lethbridge Victim Services over the last five years has had the assistance of DWW Maddison who has assisted hundreds of children through traumatic events they have experienced.

After years of dedicated work in Lethbridge, DWW Maddison is preparing for retirement as she assists DWW Marley into learning her position over the next year.

“What we have right now is Lethbridge Victim Services has a dog and her name is DWW Maddison and she has been with Victim Services for about five years now and she is preparing to move into retirement, and so replacing Maddison eventually sometime this year is DWW Marley, so they are both living together in Lethbridge and eventually Maddison will be phasing into retirement,” says Zahara. “Last week, a representative from Lethbridge Victim Services was in Edmonton with our training team and they worked the whole week together learning how to use Marley in the way that they need to in Lethbridge, and once they returned, Marley had her first day of work.”

There is no set date as to when DWW Maddison will be officially retiring. The two of them are back in Lethbridge and working together on strengthening DDW Marley’s skills. Zahara says DWW Maddison has had a huge impact on the community and they are confident Marley will continue her work.

“It is a huge impact because with Marley working at Lethbridge Victim Services, she is going to be doing things like attending court with children, forensic interviews with victims of child abuse. She will be helping at schools in Lethbridge, at the hospital, she will attend community events and then eventually she will take over completely for Maddison. She is going to have a huge direct impact on the community of Lethbridge and hundreds of young children that have unfortunately been abused and victimized,” says Zahara.

Dogs with Wings mission is to foster integration and independence for individuals with disabilities by providing them with highly trained assistance dogs and aftercare. For more information on their services or to donate to their training and raising program, visit dogswithwings.ca.

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