Milan retired from a distinguished career June 21, her 11th birthday.Vivian Bott

After six years of supporting children in Alberta’s justice system and another two with School District 46, Milan the Labrador and the Sunshine Coast’s only accredited facility dog celebrated her retirement on June 21, her 11th birthday. 

Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS) breeds, raises and trains fully certified assistance dogs. A wide range of dogs are certified through the society. These include service and hearing dogs – that assist people living with mobility issues and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – as well as accredited facility dogs, like Milan. These facility dogs work with community professionals who generally work with children: teachers, RCMP or psychologists.

Vivian Bott was matched with Milan in 2016 when she was a court-based victim services worker, supporting children who would come to court to testify. 

Unlike traditional service dogs who work for their person, accredited facility dogs work for the community or work environment they are placed into. 

Bott explained that all dogs in PADS go through basic training as service dogs and once they reach a certain age, they go through testing and assessments that determine which dogs will be the best fit for each role. Much of the training to be an accredited facility dog centres on refining their obedience skills and preparing them to work in public spaces. 

PADS generally trains Labradors or Labrador-golden retriever mixes because they make great working dogs with how easy they are to train, how much they want to please and their general affiliation with people.

“She was at work with me all day, every day. She would be in court, sometimes eight hours a day, sometimes for two and a half weeks straight and was perfect all the time,” said Bott. 

“When you have a dog that is actively supporting in an environment like that, you need that dog to be perfectly trained –  and Milan is perfectly trained, a lot of it is just her, she’s just a really good dog.”  

On the Coast

Milan holds quite a few titles, being the first accredited facility dog in Manitoba and the first professionally trained dog to work in schools on the Sunshine Coast.

Bott retired two years ago and moved to the Sunshine Coast with no plans to continue working as a social worker – but that didn’t last long. 

When she heard about an opportunity in the school district, she checked if she would be able to bring Milan with her, and was given the go-ahead by her director. 

Bott and Milan would visit schools on the Coast, spending time with students, working in the hallways, visiting classrooms or spending time with students at counsellor or teacher referrals.

Some of the challenges Milan has helped students overcome include transitioning into a new school or new class, behaviour challenges or managing anxiety. 

“They just need that little break and something to help them along and that’s what Milan does,” she said. 

Bott explained how Milan’s presence is enough to help students get through their days, even when she doesn’t appear to be doing much.

“There’s something about working with a dog … they’re able to reach people and touch people in a completely different way than humans can do with our words,”  she said. 

Bott is also involved in the school district’s Crises Response Flight Team. Last year Bott and Milan spent three days supporting staff and students who experienced a tragedy. Bott said that those who witnessed the meaningful support Milan provided still talk about its impact to this day.

What’s next for Milan?

Shortly after her retirement, Bott legally adopted Milan and after 11 years of working, the Labrador gets to be a pet dog.

“I told her last week I said, ‘Well, I’ve adopted you, you’re a pet now, and I think she heard me because she’s been acting in ways that I’ve never seen her act before and is joyful and happy and engaged in playing,” Bott said. 

Bott said she hopes to get a younger dog to come alongside her in the fall and continue the impactful work Milan started in the short time she worked with the school district. 

Saying that Milan has been ready to retire for a while, Bott said the dog’s retirement will be full of forest runs and gazing into puddles.

“She’s going to be living a good life here on the Coast like the rest of us and not have to worry about human stress,” she said. 

Jordan Copp is the Coast Reporter’s civic and Indigenous affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

By Jordan Copp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 04, 2024 at 18:17

This item reprinted with permission from   Coast Reporter   Sechelt, British Columbia

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