Take one dog, one teen, one foster family, and one disabled person: 4 winners!

It’s funny where terrific ideas get born.

Take Jane Boake, for instance. There she was, living in Germany, teaching at an international school and then being a full time mommy. Being a full time mommy gave Jane the opportunity to take her interest in dogs–puppies, in particular–to a whole new level.

Jane had always been interested in dogs… dogs from the pound mostly, and she saw how fast dogs learn. Once she saw a helping dog at work, she was hooked. She started researching online, checking on sources for Assistance Dogs and she found the institute. She found Dr. Bonnie Bergin, founder of a California institute for training and provision of assistance dogs for
people with mobility disabilities.

Spend a week in a wheelchair and you’ll quickly see the obstacles that present on a daily basis. Drop your only quarter for the parking meter. Lose your keys somewhere in your apartment. Leave your wallet in your pants pocket in the laundry hamper. An assistance dog can solve all this, as well as unlock doors, count, use the telephone, open the fridge door and recognize when their owner is in trouble.

Jane got hooked on assistance dogs and formed the Canine Opportunity for People Empowerment (COPE) to pattern herself on The Canine Companions for Independence, the world’s largest service dog organization.

She applied to attend the institute to learn how to train dogs to be assistance dogs. It was alot of money for a full time mom to come up with–$7000 American for flight, accommodation, food, tuition– plus 6 weeks away from the family. But Jane is a hands-on learner and the Institute was
the perfect learning ground. Boot camp was living in wheelchairs and experiencing a mobility disability as closely as possible to reality.

For six weeks Jane was immersed in all aspects of running an assistance dog training facility, everything from how to train, run the operation, run the not-for-profit side of the Obusiness.’ She also learned how to work with the users of the dogs.

And then COPE was born. She applied for charitable status and brought her first dogs back to Canada from Germany when she moved home. Jane works with Golden Retrievers, the breed well suited to being assistance dogs since fetching is their number one instinct. She was delighted when the school she used to teach at supported her endeavour with the funds for the first three puppies. She uses one of her original three dogs as her demonstration and practice dog.

And since COPE reached full charitable status, it’s also taking shape as a source of assistance dogs. It takes two years of time and training to produce an assistance dog and from her first three dogs, Jane got a litter of 7 puppies, keeping them all for training.

All this takes money, and Jane’s become adept at fundraising. A fully trained assistance dog is worth $22,000 in training and care.

But the mom and the teacher in Jane took this dog training program to a whole new level. Jane contacted a Simcoe County school, looking for teenagers who would benefit from the experience of working with an animal. Those teenagers become the training team for the dogs. As well as trainers, each dog needs a host of supporters from the moment it is born.

First come the puppy petters… enthusiastic kids and adults who literally come to pet the dogs so they are stimulated in a positive way. “A puppy’s brain is blank at birth. It’s like a book full of blank pages and we want to put the correct writing on that page,” explains Jane.

And then there are foster families where the dogs live from the time they’e eight weeks old until they go to their permanent owner at 24 months. At the foster home, kids and parents maintain consistent commands and training so the dog gets what it needs to be effective.

The foster family is incredibly important in the process and COPE supplies food, veterinary care, a crate, leashes and the harness and assistance pack, and the puppy. The family provides chew toys, a dog bed, toothpaste and toothbrush, transportation and love.

The school’s training team works with COPE to spend two years preparing the dog. Jane’s proud of the first Canadian dog graduates with new puppies waiting in the wings. Having young people participating in the program is part of Jane’s win-win-win philosophy and she’s relied heavily on Jean Hargreaves, principal at Stayner Collegiate. Jean has been a stalwart
supporter, identifying suitable dog trainers from among her students. Jean can see the results on her students… new attitudes, gleams of enthusiasm and self confidence. These teenage trainers now take ‘their’ dogs to public schools to participate in reading courses with youngsters having difficulty.

Each assistance dog, then, has a team. There’s the foster family, the youth trainers, Jane’s team, and the recipient. Jane says her own family has adapted to living with lots of dogs (12 at one point) and as dogs leave and new litters arrive, her children benefit from experiencing the ebb and flow of a charitable endeavour that lets doggies and people make a difference.

So what does this charity need? Well, foster homes for the new puppies due in a few weeks. Jane would love to raise enough money to hire administration help. Jane says she’s grateful for the energy donated by 45 volunteers and her ultimate goal is to be graduating and training more

There are tons of ‘wins’with this project. The kids take the dogs into nursing homes and hospitals to socialize them and practice their obedience and response to commands. The mobility disabled person who gets the trained assistance dog has their independence enhanced in ways we can never appreciate. The trainer-teenagers win as they learn more about themselves and their abilities. The foster families win as they love and care for a special animal. And if you can foster only on weekends, COPE needs that too. On and on and on.

Jane is thrilled with their new website, complete with mission, opportunity and the wish list of items that she would love to have.

To connect with Cope Dogs visit
or call
Phone: 705 424-9692

As we talked about the program, it wouldn’t be complete without exploring what happens to dogs who don’t graduate as assistance dogs. “Well, we look for the dog to succeed in another career” says Jane. “They become drug-sniffing dogs for police departments, activities where their talents can be utilized.”

Look what happens when Mommy gets connected!

Thanks, Jane.