Big, friendly service dog passes away

A familiar sight in down town Bentley is no longer present.

Service dog Gus with owner Carla Schneider from Bentley appeared at many talks and fundraisers.

Service dog Gus with owner Carla Schneider from Bentley appeared at many talks and fundraisers.

A familiar sight in down town Bentley is no longer present.

The big friendly six-year-old St Bernard service dog of Carla Schneider will no longer be seen around Bentley. He passed away unexpectedly and suddenly in late August at a time when Carla was actually starting to contemplate his retirement.

His sudden death was a shock, and when asked what she will do without her steadfast companion and helper Carla responded, “I don’t know!”

Life has really changed for Carla. “The house is so quiet. No snoring. No breathing. No paws against the wall. No routine. No hour-long walk in the morning. No brushing,” she says. “He loved his stuffed animals.”

Carla is not seen downtown and out and about as much as she used to be and now has to rely on friends to help her with her daily outings.

She and husband Les moved to Bentley about six years ago with Angus as a puppy.

Carla had been involved in a car accident in Red Deer in 2004 and still suffers from a brain injury that affects her balance and sight, and she felt she needed a dog that would be physically large enough to help her get up, and that she could lean on. She needed a multi-purpose dog. None of the other aid dogs could fit that bill so she, with the help of a professional trainer, set to work to train Gus to help her with her specific needs.

Angus / Gus or “Gussie” as he affectionately became known by many was born in June 2004, one of a litter of nine. Carla said as soon as she saw him there was an instant connection between them and as soon as he was home, training started.

A large part of Gus’s help was getting Carla out of the house. Because he needed regular exercise, that made her go out, and that helped with her rehabilitation.

He passed his Puppy Kindergarten, and Adult Level I and II training, and was specifically trained and socialized.

In April 2008 the Bentley Royal Purple helped with the cost of a special harness with a solid handle for Gus as he was so big no regular helper dog harness would fit.

Angus accompanied Carla on medical appointments in Edmonton and Red Deer and was recognized and accepted there, and pretty well everywhere in Bentley.

He helped her stay calm in public, in crowds or in noisy atmospheres. When he felt Carla getting anxious he would crowd a little closer to her which had a settling effect.

He learned to quietly stand beside Carla and let her lean on him and against him when she felt unsteady. He learned to let her crawl up on him to help her get up when she had trouble.

He learned to pull a two-wheeled cart and pack saddlebags to help carry mail and groceries back home after getting Carla safely around town.

He would lie quietly at her feet while she gave talks and did presentations for many charitable organizations.

“Angus accomplished a lot,” Carla says. He became a good will ambassador for STARS, the United Way, and CABIS (Central Alberta Brain Injury Society) and attended many fundraisers. “When he was invited it seemed people stayed more focused on what was being presented,” Carla said.

As a team they did the ATB walk for the United Way.

He attended the STARS fundraiser in Red Deer with Carla in May 2006 and their story was later featured on the May page of the Stars 2007 calendar.

They attended the Bentley Library program in March 2007 to help educate people about service dogs and what they can do and how the public should regard and treat service dogs.

In 2008 he was at the unveiling of the Sylvan Lake STARS dream home.

Gus was awarded the special Feather to Fur Award in May of 2008 by STARS for his ‘generous support and contribution’.

He received his own certificate for completing the “Paddle Your Own Canoe” course.

He and his story was written up in the Advocate in July 2009, in the Central Alberta Life, the Lacombe Globe and mentioned in the Rimbey Review and other publications.

In March 2011 he was written up in the Saint Bernard Fanciers of Canada publication and in the The Saint Fancier Winter 2012 United States version of the breed publication.

He took part in the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides walk and even promoted Bentley for Kraft Hockeyville in 2010.

But there was a roadblock for the two of them.

When Carla tried to get Angus recognized under the new Alberta Government Service Dog Act in April 2009 she found out they only recognized dogs that were professionally trained by certified organizations/schools for one specific area of help and Gus was home-trained.

Gus had lots of support though. Carla submitted letters of endorsement including from the bank, STARS and her doctor, the United Way, and Alberta Guide Dog Services.

A quote in a letter of support from the manager of Development and Communications for Alberta Guide Dog Services to have Angus recognized said in part “I think Gus is the exception to the rule and he should be somehow grandfathered in as he is far superior to many of the certified dogs I have seen out there. Dogs just don’t get any better or reliable than this fellow.”

Finally he did get “grandfathered in” under the act because he already was a service dog under the Human Rights Act before the new act was implemented.

She still wanted to have him be recognized as a certified Service Dog.

Gus was one of only 8 dogs that passed out of almost 60 dogs that were accepted into a pilot project for “home-schooled” dogs. They had to go through a tedious and stringent series of tests to get accredited. They included a number of days in Edmonton riding a city bus, going through West Edmonton mall and all its distractions, including the food fair and people offering him food, riding elevators and escalators, etc.

Angus passed with flying colors. The program was quietly ended.

Angus was finally issued his certified Service Dog ID card on July 7, 2009.

Despite being under his vet’s care and being on intravenous and antibiotics he died. The cause of his sudden death was undetermined. Carla speculates that maybe he had been bitten 9 days earlier while out in BC by a deerfly or other insect as that can cause ill effects very quickly. She reminds people to have all their pets’ shots up to date and watch for any changes in their behavior or eating habits.

She feels another dog trained by someone else cannot meet all her needs. They are trained for one specific area like a seeing eye dog, a mobility dog, a therapy dog, a dog for the hearing impaired, etc., but not for the full gamut of areas like Gus got accustomed to mostly because he had lived with his family from 9 weeks old.

Knowing she may have to tackle the human rights act to get another self-trained dog certified, she is considering just that.

Colleen McNaught, who transported Gus and Carla all over, and is a close friend, said, “He was always the good will ambassador.”

Carla would like to see one universal term – ‘service dogs’ – used to refer to dogs that provide special assistance for people. The terminology now is confusing – guide dogs, dog guides, service dogs, aid dogs, helper dogs, etc. All of these exceptional dogs provide a wonderful, meaningful service to enhance the quality of life of a person with disabilities.