Jasper Welcomes Uri

BellaWhen Isabella welcomed home her new life companion, DWW Uri in October, her community was ready and waiting.

Hjalmar and Connie, Bella’s parents, have lived in Jasper for the past 30 years. They both work and volunteer extensively in their community. Hjalmar is a volunteer fire fighter and both he and Connie, who works at Parks Canada, have participated on boards and committees. The whole family, Mom and Dad, sons Angelo and Thomas and daughter Bella, are very active and enjoy all the wonderful recreation that Jasper provides both summer and winter.

Early in 2012, the family heard about Dogs with Wings and applied for a service dog for Bella. They didn’t just sit and wait. They started learning everything they could about Dogs with Wings and about having a service dog and how it would affect their family and the community. They also recognized the tremendous amount of work and costs that go into preparing a service dog for placement.

Every time the family came to Edmonton they tried to stop at DWW to visit. Trainers Maria or Moira would take Bella on a short walk tethered with a waist belt to a trained dog. This helped to judge Bella’s readiness and helped Connie and Hjalmar learn what their role would be. It also gave them an idea of what types of reactions to expect from passersby.

For the next three years, Hjalmar and Connie talked to their community about a service dog for Bella. This would be the first service dog to live in Jasper. They asked for, and got, donations of products and services from many businesses that helped raise funds at DWW’s annual gala dinners and auctions. They started a bottle collection for DWW and raised over $1000. Other groups in the community followed suit and raised another $400.

Knowing their goal was to have a service dog accompany Bella to her classes, the family began discussions with the local school district as soon as DWW approved their application. The school board had no protocols for service animals in their schools so the family connected them with DWW Executive Director John Wheelwright to help draft a new administrative policy.

Having the first service dog in Jasper meant there would be a huge learning curve for the community. To help teach people that DWW Uri isn’t a regular pet and should not be touched, spoken to or distracted while he’s working, the Fitzhugh, Jasper’s local paper, ran a nice article introducing Uri and outlining service dog etiquette.

For now, Uri accompanies Connie to work each day. Parks Canada is fully supportive of having him there and co-workers are flabbergasted at how he is so very well behaved. When Bella is ready, Uri will accompany her to school where students and staff will know the important role he plays. Grateful for the outstanding gift of DWW Uri to one of their own, the family and the community of Jasper will continue to support Dogs with Wings so others may benefit from their own life companion.

Bella's community was ready and waiting.

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