By Michael Lea, Kingston Whig-Standard – Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Two women who provide service dogs to local families, including families with special needs children, have been chosen as the winners of the 2014 International Day of Persons with Disabilities Access Award.
Elizabeth Bailey and Samantha Knapp are co-owners of Kingston 4Paws Service Dogs and were named as winners of the annual award during a ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the Invista Centre.
The access award was established in 2011 to recognize a person or organization that has made a major contribution, outside of anything required by law, in improving access for persons with disabilities. It is presented by the city in partnership with the Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee.
“I am kind of numb,” Knapp said. “I am just thrilled because for us this is awareness, which will mean more help for more families. There are no words to describe it.”
Bailey said they were in “incredible company” in the competition, with “so many other worthy projects out there.”
“We were just happy we were nominated for the awareness. The fact we won has still got us both gobsmacked.”
Also nominated for the award were:
• Assisted Living Renovations, created by Neil Garrison, which provides home modifications and renovations to improve a home’s accessibility;
• The Kingston Sheep Dog Trials Festival, which provided an accessible path mat, assistive listening devices and accessible seating for visitors, as well as other accessible services;
• Happy Soul Project, founded by Tara McCallan, which seeks to help people look at people with special needs differently;
• Access Champions, created by Ellen Flanagan, which works to provide equal opportunities on the Queen’s University campus by overcoming challenges and barriers and connecting people to the resources they may need; and
• Suraj Kumar, the owner of City Taxi, who runs the first two accessible taxis in Kingston.
Bailey said Kingston 4Paws Service Dogs, a not-for-profit business, is in its second year and primarily raises service dogs for families with autistic children, although they also help individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, sensory processing disorders and seizures.
Bailey used to raise service dogs for two other organizations and saw a need for such a service in this area.
She said the majority of such agencies are in southwestern Ontario, so the extra travel time can make it difficult for them to provide dogs to families in the eastern part of the province.
That lack of local service was also part of the incentive for Knapp, who has also trained service dogs for years and got into the field since she has special needs children of her own.
“It’s a blessing in disguise because if I didn’t have my children who had seizures, I probably wouldn’t have known there is a need,” she said.
The two have 11 dogs in their program, some looked after by foster parents. They have weekly training classes at malls, the train station or downtown to acclimatize the dogs to daily living.
“We don’t have a training facility per se because they need to be everywhere,” Bailey said.
A couple of times a year, they check up on the dogs they have placed, and will continue to work with the family to make sure everything is going well. Families are also welcome to join in training sessions.
“It’s not just about training the dog; it’s about training the handler as well,” she said.
Knapp said having a service dog “most definitely” made a difference in her own life and recalled one person who received a dog that alerted her whenever a seizure was imminent. That allowed her to take the medication that would prevent it.
Bailey said the majority of dogs she has raised have gone to children with autism, and the families often write to her and send photos of their dog.
“They do things that they were never able to do as a family, things that you and I take for granted, things like going to a restaurant, things like going to a shopping mall, going anywhere different, because a lot of times children with autism have difficulty doing that, anything that is unfamiliar,” Bailey said.
She said children who weren’t doing well in school do much better once the dogs go with them.
Knapp said service dogs are becoming more accepted in communities as more people realize the dogs aren’t just for people with sight problems.
“There are dogs for other disorders, and that, I think, is the biggest thing that we have taught Kingston, so far,” Knapp said.
Bailey noted the recent appearance of a service dog in a court testimony by a child.
“What happens is, especially for children, they speak to the dog. They give their testimony to the dog, not to some person who is really intimidating for them.”
Drew Kennedy, the vice-chair on the Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee, said the committee aims each year to recognize a person, group or organization that is local and shows creativity in a service or activity that can benefit an individual, a group of people or the community at large.
He said the six applications this year made for “a bit of a tough go.”
Most of them met the creativity criteria, but the judges gave weight to nominees that were not-for-profit.
Kingston 4Paws Service Dogs was ultimately selected because it met the creativity component, it is part of the community, it serves a wide range of people, and it has received positive feedback from the community in general, Kennedy said.
“The animals really do come to play a significant role in a person’s life,” he added.
“The effort that this group has put forward in terms of the amount of training that goes into one animal, let alone all of the animals they have done, is quite significant, and ultimately the benefit to the recipient is also highly significant.”