Lending a Paw for a Good Cause
BBVSH gives back to service animals and charities who serve our communities.
While most of the dogs we see at Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital (BBVSH) are family pets, we also treat many animals who are supported by or cared for by charities. At BBVSH we try to do our part to support registered charities and the animals they care for, by providing discounts for our services.
One group that we work with frequently is Ned’s Wish, a registered charity founded in Alberta in 2017 that is dedicated to preserving the quality of life for retired police and military service dogs across Canada. Ned’s Wish has a great family of registered heroes that have retired from various law enforcement agencies, Parks Canada and the Department of National Defense. We sat down with Dr. Kathryn Welsman (DVM), to talk about Ned’s Wish, the work she does as a veterinarian and a board member of Ned’s Wish, and the importance of collaborating with a specialty hospital like ours. She was joined by Carina Wingerak, owner of late PSD Dirks, who served with the RCMP protecting BC communities during his entire career. Dirks was treated in his retirement by BBVSH until his passing in 2022.
What brought you to Ned’s Wish?
Kathryn: I was helping one of the working dogs in Alberta and he sent me a thank you calendar from Ned’s Wish, which is how I found out about them. I have a passion for working dogs with a big focus on police dogs, so it’s really important to me that these dogs, when they retire, get the best care possible to allow a long and happy retirement. So, I stepped up to volunteer for Ned’s Wish as a board member and veterinarian.
Police dogs protect Canadians in ways maybe most people don’t think of. Police dogs are involved in criminal apprehension (most people think of this as the dogs biting people), but that is a very small part of what they do. They track people who do and don’t want to be found – such as a lost child or wanted person – they find articles that could help with investigations, they search buildings to make sure they are safe, they work in avalanche zones to find missing people, and they also find bombs, drugs, or human remains, just to name a few of the things they do.
Carina: Kathryn was our vet when we lived in Kamloops, and she and her husband became good friends of ours. Dirks served with my husband, Constable Dan Cloutier, in both the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, and the BC South Peace Region in Dawson Creek and surrounding areas for about 6 years. When Dirks retired, we adopted him into our home. In 2020, Kathryn told us about Ned’s Wish and encouraged us to register Dirks, so we did. Dirks had ongoing allergies which limited him to a strict diet, and he was showing signs of arthritis and reduced mobility due to his hard-working years. In early 2021 Dirks started displaying neurological issues in his legs and back, so we called Kathyrn and she referred us to BBVSH.
Why does Ned’s Wish exist?
Kathryn: Working police dogs have put their lives on the line to save their handlers and Canadians alike. They work hard in inclement weather all over the country and in many dangerous situations. Unfortunately, they may retire with many injuries from the years on the job, which means that in their golden years they have unique medical needs along with all the normal geriatric issues associated with large breeds like Shepherds.
Families who adopt retired police or military dogs can be left with substantial and costly health issues. It’s an unfortunate reality: medical issues and associated costs can dictate how well, how long or even if police dogs can enjoy retirement. If health care costs become too high, a dog’s quality of life can be significantly reduced, or even cut short.
On average, police and military dogs retire around seven years of age, and the average life span of a police dog is between nine and twelve years. Retired police dogs are near the end of their lives, so by virtue Ned’s Wish is about quality, not quantity. Ned’s Wish exists to help retired police dogs enjoy their remaining years.
Carina: Taking on a retired police service dog is not for everyone. It requires an understanding of their career and training, and that they are always on continual alert even when they have retired; it takes time for them to learn how to just be a “normal” dog. With Dirks, it was the simple things that he enjoyed. One of the most memorable things was to see him just enjoy sticking his face out the window into the wind in the front seat of my vehicle, especially when we would drive out to the farm. He was a good natured and good-hearted dog, and we wanted him to have as much time to enjoy his retirement as possible, and for us to enjoy him. Ned’s Wish was there to help us with that.
How has BBVSH helped retired service animals through Ned’s Wish?
Kathryn: BBVSH has experts in areas like neurology and surgery that are of particular interest when dealing with retired police dogs. We work with many specialty hospitals across Canada as many police dogs suffer from back or spinal injuries from the years on the job, and require the unique skill set of neurologists and surgeons who have the expertise to use specialty equipment and tools such as an MRI or CT scans.
Several of our Ned’s Wish dogs have been seen at BBVSH through the emergency department, as well as the neurology and surgery services. BBVSH is well located now in it’s new building in Surrey. We have dogs registered all over B.C. and Canada but for our Vancouver area dogs, it is pretty luxurious to have access to hospitals like BBVSH. BBVSH has always tried to see our dogs very quickly and accommodate the out-of-town dogs.
Carina: BBVSH got us in quickly; we didn’t have to wait. My understanding is that we couldn’t have gotten that care from anywhere else in B.C. There is no way that we could have figured out Dirks’ issues without the care and the tests from a specialist. It’s so important that owners have that option. BBVSH gave us extra time with Dirks that we wouldn’t otherwise have had. We were grateful to have options and to have Kathryn make that referral and connection.
One of the most difficult decisions an owner/handler must make is to say goodbye when a dog is suffering. What was your experience with this service at BBVSH?
Kathryn: One vital role that BBVSH has played is helping to look after our dogs when their handlers decide it is time to say goodbye and euthanasia is required. These dogs are so bonded with their handlers and vice versa – often the dogs have saved the life of their handler when they were working. This makes it particularly hard to make a euthanasia decision. This means sometimes those decisions are not made until the last moment, and often late at night, and BBVSH is always open to help.
We had a retired dog who was suffering from a life limiting disease and suddenly took a turn for the worst one evening. The handler called me, and I happened to be in the lower mainland working as a locum (normally I live and work in Alberta right now) and explained the situation. He asked if I could euthanize the dog, but it was after hours. So, I called BBVSH and asked if the dog could be seen for a euthanasia. The staff said to come down right away. They put us right away into a quiet room and were extremely respectful of the fact that the dog had been a working police dog.
Why is it important to be able to collaborate on costs with a hospital like BBVSH for their specialty and emergency services?
Kathryn: Vet medicine can be quite costly, as we all know. To properly staff and equip a specialty hospital is a massive expense. Therefore, when retired police dogs need expert and unique care, the cost can add up quickly. As a charity it is important that we are mindful of how we spend our donor dollars, and we try to make them go as far as possible.
Ned’s Wish steps in to help families cover the costs to ensure these amazing dogs have the retirement they deserve. Having access to and financial support from small practices in rural Canada and large referral centres like BBVSH allow these dogs to live out their retirement with grace and enjoyment.
Carina: RCMP dogs don’t have a pension or anything like that – we are so thankful to Ned’s Wish. What they do is so important. This type of charity is a really big deal and something that all people who have retired RCMP dogs should utilize and support. When Dirks needed specialized food and medication for his allergies, we didn’t always submit our receipts, as we felt we could cover those costs. But when he needed specialized diagnostics and care with a Dr. Gordon (a neurologist), we were so grateful for the discount at BBVSH and the extra help from Ned’s Wish.