In the last quarter century, the Burnaby-based Pacific Assistance Dogs Society has successfully trained 543 golden and Labrador retrievers to help people with disabilities.
For those who have been paired with a working dog, the relationship means greater independence and a bond like no other.
From picking up dropped keys to opening doors and turning off lights, the society's dogs eagerly provide a service to those clients who have limited use of their limbs.
"The dogs become the arms and legs of the clients," said the society's executive director, Laura Watamanuk.
Today, there are 77 working dogs paired with clients across Western Canada, mostly in B.C. and Alberta.
In celebration of the society's 25th anniversary, the annual graduation ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 30 will include a presentation and reception open to the public at the Michael J. Fox Theatre, at 7373 MacPherson Ave. from 2 to 5 p.m.
The event will feature a puppy parade with working dogs and dogs in training on site. Everyone is welcome to see the newest class of young pups graduate, with their leashes passed from trainers to new clients.
For Watamanuk, it's also a good opportunity to honour the many volunteers who keep the organization running; from breeders to trainers, puppy raisers, to office staff and others.
"I wish people understood how hard the society's crew work to further their efforts, with not a lot of reward," she said. "I'm proud of this dedicated crew that work tirelessly to help someone else."
Pacific Assistance Dogs Society is a non-profit organization funded entirely through individual donations and grants.
A lot has changed at the organization in the last year, with a revamped training program and new staff members on board.
As well, starting in October, staff will go to animal shelters and rescue organizations on a weekly basis to assess small breeds as potential hearing aid dogs.
Watamanuk said the society feels it is important to consider giving some of these dogs a chance to become service dogs.
She also said she is excited to move ahead with a new training program and improve the volunteer recruitment process.
People are needed for a wide variety of work to be done, both on site and in the community, and a list of positions, items and services required is available on the website - www. pads.ca.
In particular, office assistance, event planning and renovations help would be appreciated; and, of course, people are needed on an ongoing basis to raise puppies from eight weeks to help socialize them. Two litters of Labrador retrievers are expected to be weaned by Christmas and will be ready to be placed with volunteers.
While it used to be that one puppy would be placed with a family or individual for at least one year, the new training regime involves rotating the puppies with different volunteers to better socialize them early on.
"We say it takes a village to raise a dog," said Watamanuk.
Besides recruiting new volunteers, the society has a goal of raising awareness of its services in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as obtaining permanent ownership of a building site.
The location on Stormont Avenue has been leased from the City of Burnaby at a reduced rate since the non-profit was founded in 1987, but Watamanuk said, "Our dream is to have a permanent facility that we own."
Challenges with fundraising have been evident in the last few years due to the economic downturn, but Watamanuk said new campaigns are in the works, and the organization is getting the word out to more people now through a regularly updated website, Facebook page and Twitter account.
For more information about volunteering or the anniversary event, visit www.pads.ca.