Minister of Community and Social Services, Irfan Sabir, shared details of a new Albertan program to allow home-trained service dogs to receive approval of the same qualifications as organization-trained service dogs at an announcement in Weadickville, Stampede Park on Saturday, July 14, 21018. “I’m dog-gone happy to be here,” smiled Sabir as he welcomed the crowd, “and thank you to the Calgary Stampede for championing inclusion of service dogs and opening your doors to all Albertans.”

Throughout the past years, the Government of Alberta had become aware of the shortage of qualified service dogs in the province, with an ongoing demand. For the past year, Sabir and other members of the Government of Alberta have been working hard to create a solution and the new approval of allowing home-trained, Alberta qualified service dogs was born.

Speaking to the goal of helping to create an inclusive province for persons with disabilities and to help enable all people to participate in the community, Sabir spoke of the importance of allowing service dogs access to public spaces. With the unveil of a new decal for store-fronts, businesses across Alberta can now display the decal to show that service dogs are welcome to enter the space.

Sabir continued his address, explaining that service dogs are key to making it realistic for persons with disabilities to receive education, employment and inclusion in the community.

Service dog owner, Doug Murray, shared his experience, noting that “many disabilities are not visible, so the presence of a service dogs helps to alert others around.” Murray also noted that training service dogs is a long, difficult task, is never a guarantee, and the waiting list is extremely long. Thankful for Alberta’s new program to allow qualification for home-trained service dogs, Murray stated that to him this initiative is a much-needed and “brave move.” Murray is the first person to complete the Alberta program with his dog Kaila.

One mother,  Melissa MacDonald, home-trained a service dog for her daughter, who is on the autism spectrum but does not qualify for an organization-trained service dog, and shared her experience with the crowd. MacDonald’s daughter has taken her service dog, Ebony, to school with her for the past two years and has developed into a confident and talented young woman. Not only does she now speak up and participate in class discussions, she has addressed the entire school in assemblies, received a green belt in taekwondo and now has a group of close friends – which alone, is a relief and blessing to her mother.

“Pets add value by companionship and unconditional love, but service dogs take it further with specialized training,” MacDonald gratefully said, explaining that her daughter’s development was due to the help of Ebony, her home-trained service dog. “They’re dogs, yes. But pets, no. [Service dogs] are medical equipment.”

As the first official storefront to display the new decal, Family Freezed Gourmet Ice Pops proudly welcomed Sabir to place the decal on their Weadickville location. To celebrate this, the family-owned, local business handed out custom-made, hand-crafted peanut butter dog popsicles to the pups in attendance.

Read more here and visit alberta.ca/servicedogs for more information.