Woman who faces eviction over service dog to get help from dog trainer

A Winnipeg woman with Alzheimer’s who was told to get rid of her dog or face eviction will be getting some help from a Manitoba dog trainer.

Dog trainer, George Leonard, will meet with Donna Davidson to help get her dog, Kaos, certified

Master dog trainer, George Leonard from MSAR Service Dogs, will meet with Donna Davidson and her three-year-old Sheltie, Kaos, on Monday. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A 72-year-old Winnipeg woman with Alzheimer's who was told to get rid of her dog or face eviction will be getting some help from a Manitoba dog trainer.

Donna Davidson's condo has a strict no-pets policy, and the condo board has refused to recognize her dog, Kaos, as a service animal because it lacks official certification. Now a Manitoba organization is stepping in to help her.

"You have this really sweet elderly woman, her son's a firefighter, her husband is a military veteran, and basically our board said 'just make it happen'," said George Leonard, a certified master dog trainer with MSAR Service Dogs.
George Leonard is a master dog trainer with MSAR Service Dogs, an organization that trains and provides support to people with service dogs. (Submitted)

MSAR trains dogs to assist people with a variety of medical conditions, including veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The organization will be providing their services to Davidson free of charge.

"It kind of restores your faith in humanity a little bit, when you feel like there is no hope and then suddenly [there is]. It's amazing when people come out," said Murray Davidson, Donna's son.

Leonard will meet with Donna, Murray, and Kaos on Monday. Leonard will assess Kaos and begin the process of getting the dog's training up to standards.

"We're going to do an initial assessment to see how suitable the dog is to be a service dog, and then if that goes well, we are going to provide a public access test so that she can start taking that dog legally out and around," said Leonard.
The Davidsons are hoping that Kaos can get certified by Leonard as a service animal so that he can stay with Donna in the condo block. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"Then we will provide some support for training, follow-up, and then certification for her," he said.

Leonard says training could take weeks, months, or more, depending on the dog.

Murray told CBC News earlier this week that he had filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission after he received a letter from the condo board giving his mother until October 15 to give up the dog or face an eviction process.

Murray says the situation has been stressful for his mother and his family, and he hopes the training will bring a resolution to the dispute.

"I'm just ecstatic that there are people out there like George, who are going to take the time out of their day to provide something that will make a life changing event happen," said Murray.

Many people confused by the system

Leonard says he sees situations like the Davidson's all the time. There is no provincial regulations regarding service animals in Manitoba, and people are often unsure of how to navigate the system.

"They go on the internet and they see sites that say 'register your service dog here and we'll send you a card and a vest', and then they think 'hey my dog is certified'," said Leonard.

"It's simply just a registry, they are just registering their dog as a service dog," he said.

Leonard says while there is no public body that gives him the authority to certify service animals, his training criteria has been tested in court.

"Our standard has been used in human rights cases to win and advocate for people," he said.

Leonard says he offers very specific training and testing procedures which sets his certification apart from others. He says people can train their own service animals but they must be tested by an outside party to have a credible certification.

Leonard says MSAR offers support and training to people who wish to use service animals. It also offers training to businesses to help them understand what their rights and obligations are when it comes to service animals.