The Suitcase Project- Unpacking Riverview’s History and how it could impact the future of mental health treatment in B.C

Dogs With Jobs



The life of an ordinary dog is pretty great. They sleep, they play and they eat. But most importantly they are loved. Well there are dogs out there that don’t get to live the ordinary life. They are loved, of course, but they rarely get to play. They have work to do. From police K-9 units to shepherds in charge of wrangling sheep, dogs have served men, doing some of the toughest jobs we can ask of them.

In most instances, the role of dogs in our society can go unnoticed. We see dogs helping the visually impaired everyday, we see dogs bringing home the kill after a day out hunting. We see these great examples of working dogs, but we rarely get to see how they get there. 


Pumpkin, a half black, half golden lab, was bred to help people. She was born into the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) family. The PADS team breeds, raises and trains dogs so they can become fully certified assistance dogs. 

They focus primarily on service dogs who will deal with mobility issues and PTSD, as well as hearing dogs. These animals can provide independence to people who otherwise have that ability hindered for whatever reason, changing their lives forever. 

Due to the significant roles the dogs will play in their humans life, the training and process in becoming certified is certainly grueling. We sat down with Pumpkin, and her trainer Chantelle, to see what becoming a PADS dog truly entails. 


We learned that Pumpkin, unfortunately, failed her training exam. Chantelle explained to us that regardless of how well a dog is trained, there are a number of biological reasons, a dog may not become certified. In Pumpkin’s case, she failed because of her temperament and how she could not return to meet the baseline set by PADS for assistance dogs. Not only did Pumpkin fail, but so have most of the other dogs in her litter. When considering that the litter was bred with the intent on becoming PADS dogs, it becomes very clear how few dogs end up in this high tier of working class canines.

Scientists have been studying dogs and how they deal with stress, looking into dog’s temperaments and analyzing how it affects their ability to cope with stress. Known as the Yerkes-Dodson law, it says that some stress can be a good thing, but only up to a point. The law also states that arousal level, a component of temperament, affects problem solving. 

It is evident to see why dogs like Pumpkin would need to cope well with stress. They are being trained to aid people with mobility issues, hearing issues or even PTSD. Being able to remain at a baseline is extremely beneficial in aiding their humans. 

A study done by the Duke Canine Cognition Centre highlighted some really interesting results about the law. They conducted an experiment with two groups of dogs. One group was composed of pet dogs, while another was made up of assistant dogs used to help disabled people, specially chosen and trained due to their calm disposition.

They found that the optimal amount of stress differed depending on the temperament of the dog. In the first of the experiments, with calm encouragement, all dogs managed to collect a piece of beef jerky without a hitch. But when the researchers became enthusiastic and called the animal’s name avidly, the urgency boosted the performance of the laid-back dogs, but had the opposite effect on the other group, making the hyper ones crack.

Though we may never fully understand why certain dogs become overwhelmed and fail PADS tests, studies like that can be eye-opening. Temperament is not something you can necessarily identify when it comes to breeding. Chantelle mentioned that labradors and retrievers make for better service dogs because they are driven by food while others may be driven by exercise or affection, but when it comes to temperament, that remains a mystery. What we do know is that a year of hard-work, training and love by their handlers will set any type of dog up to be a great pet, and that is all we can really ask of these extraordinary animals. 


While the door for Pumpkin’s PADS career may have shut, it doesn’t have to be the end of her hopes at service. The St. Johns Ambulance Dog Therapy program is a testament to the multitude of opportunities for owners and dogs that are meant to be around people. Even without obtaining a PADS certification a dedicated owner and dog can still contribute to their community. The dogs can be used for therapeutic and educational practices. This goes way beyond the traditional ‘feeling good’ around a cute canine. St. John Ambulance have built out a therapy dog program supported completely by volunteer handlers to provide support to communities across the Lower Mainland. 

Barbara Renkers is the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Unit Facilitator who oversees Therapy Dog programs for “hospitals, libraries, schools, and seniors homes.” The dogs in Renkers’ program go through “temperament testing” that, while not as comprehensive as PADS, admits dogs who are capable of responding appropriately to an array of challenging social environments.

Volunteer handlers along with their canine companions engage with both inmates and prison staff to help form bonds and realize a common ground.

With just their presence, the dogs act as mediators between these distinct groups to realize a common ground.

When they come together in this way, with a volunteer and their dog, these social distinctions are momentarily stripped away. Renkers describes it as being “remarkable to see how the inmates and officers are together like that, they become just a group of people talking about the dog.”

You can hear our full interview with Barbara Renkers below:

Since we met Chantelle and Pumpkin, Pumpkin has been adopted by Chantelle’s mom, much to the joy of both Pumpkin and Chantelle.

Chantelle plans to co-raise another puppy for PADS soon, but says she is really glad Pumpkin is staying in the family.


The 8th dog meet up in Vancouver hosted by Dogs of Vancity, happened at Trout Lake Beach on March 1st.
Over 500 dogs attended,  and everyone and their dogs were playful and having fun. All types of dogs were there, big, small, or service. You name it, that dog was there.
The Facebook event page created for this meet up is filled with positive comments especially this one from Vicki Lou

Just goes to show how impactful dogs can be, that someone was able to have a great time at the event just because she was able to be around dogs again after moving to Vancouver.
The next dog meet up is scheduled for May 31st but is postponed due to COVID-19. Talks about having a zoom meetup are in the works.