Source: CBC (Extract)
Posted: November 08, 2023

For many people in B.C.’s East Kootenay region, West the Labrador retriever is more than just a dog.

For the past six years, West has provided emotional and physical support to people in Kimberley and Cranbrook — about 515 kilometres and 530 kilometres east of Vancouver, respectively — who are going through traumatizing situations. He has been there for people testifying in court, helped victims of crimes and RCMP staff.

Jesse Roberts is a court liaison officer with the Cranbrook RCMP, and West’s main handler. She says it’s time for West to enjoy retirement after a successful career.

“It’s for sure bittersweet … I wouldn’t redo anything. I’m glad that he’s ready to retire. He’s had a long career and it’s time for him to just relax,” said Roberts at a retirement event on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Roberts works closely with Katie Chave, a community-based victim services co-ordinator for Summit Community Services Society.

While West lives with Roberts, Chave has been by West’s side for the past six years and together they have helped hundreds of people.

“He probably has spent around 150 trials with me, supporting people through testimony and spending time with them … West is a really big part of helping them stay calm and present and getting through these really challenging circumstances,” said Chave.

West joined the RCMP and Summit Community Services Society through the Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS). He was fully trained at two years old when he first started working.

Now, he is nine years old and ready to trade in his service vest for cuddles and relaxation. He will continue to live with Roberts through his golden years.

“He’s a really, sweet, lovely dog, he’s really calm and really generous,” said Chave.

She adds that West will still make the occasional trip to the Cranbrook RCMP detachment while he settles into retirement, and there are no immediate plans to replace the very good boy.

West honoured by fellow therapy dogs

Tuesday’s service was thanks in part to the Cranbrook chapter of Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC).

Mike LeClair is a team lead for TPOC Cranbrook, and says while therapy and service dogs have different jobs, they are equally as important to the community.

“I just thought it was really important that West be recognized for the work that he’s done because it is so important,” said LeClair.

“There’s nothing quite like a dog on the face of the earth, and dogs are so important to us as human beings.”

Service dogs have a very specific role, he adds. From dogs like West that provide trauma support, to seeing eye dogs, service dogs are trained to do that very job.

Therapy dogs, on the other hand, are people’s pets, says LeClair.

Therapy dogs and their owners are evaluated under a specific set of criteria to make sure they can handle public settings. Together they visit places like retirement homes, schools and hospitals to provide comfort and receive pets.

Several of the Cranbrook therapy dogs and their handlers were at Tuesday’s celebration to honour West.

LeClair says he found out that there was no official send-off for West and decided to organize one.

“Our team was lucky enough to be able to participate in that and we’re really glad that we were able to give West his little moment.”