Charitable Choices: Leash of Hope with Danielle Main, Program Coordinator and Co-Founder

Leash of Hope is a Vancouver-based charitable organization dedicated to training rescue puppies to guide dogs to help individuals with various kinds of disabilities. Leash of Hopes aims to help people of all ages to provide them with a new level of social independence and freedom. We spoke with Danielle Main, Program Coordinator, and Co-Founder to learn more about them.

Leash of Hope

Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.

Leash of Hope provides hope at both ends of the leash by training rescue puppies as guides and service dogs to help people with disabilities live a fuller life.

What problem does it aim to solve?

Our program provides fully trained assistance animals, a resource that is in scarce supply here in BC. The impact a service or guide dog can make for someone who has a disability is a significant tool and can often give people greater freedom and independence, because of this there is an influx of untrained dogs in public places as those with disabilities who could benefit from an assistance dog try and do the training themselves. This can not only be incredibly taxing for the individual but can also yield unsuccessful results and put the public and dogs’ safety at risk. Our program fills some of the need to not only train and place dogs with clients eliminating the risk of owner training, but we also offer an owner-assisted training program when we see a suitable client and dog who could be successful at doing the work themselves. Many other programs spend thousands of dollars running breeding programs, instead, our program recognizes the need to get dogs out of shelters. Though the perception of rescue dogs is that they are generally not able to be assistance dogs due to behavioural issues, the perception is inaccurate. Our program puts great effort into seeking and selecting dogs with suitable temperaments. Though there is no specific breed we seek to utilize breed is taken into consideration as well as age. All of these pieces work to solve societal concerns we value such as animal welfare, public safety, and increasing the independence and quality of life for people with disabilities.

When did you start/join it?

Leash of Hope was founded by Tessa Schmidt and Me in 2014.

What made you want to get involved?

The lack of services to acquire a service or guide dog in a responsible way was a need that hit close to home for both founders. Tessa is a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, and I am a person who is blind (low vision) with a degenerative eye disease. With both founders being passionate about disability advocacy, dog training, and welfare the organization was started as a grassroots project training one or two dogs at a time.

What was the situation like when you started?

There were been very limited services for people to appropriately acquire an assistance dog and many of the organizations had closed waitlists, this has led to people traveling out of Provence or attempting to train an assistance dog themselves (which has a high risk for public and dogs). This has left many people who would greatly benefit from an assistance dog without the resource entirely. At the time the laws for guide and service dogs were also extremely out of date.

How has it changed since?

Since then we have been able to train and place over 30 dogs as guide and service dogs, our clients and fosters have used Leash of Hopes platform to advocate for the community of disabled people, and done therapy dog work to disprove the stigma around rescue dogs while teaching the public about the importance of these dogs. The number of dogs who have benefited from our program’s rescue efforts, which include dogs that did not make it as service dogs are over 100. Over the years the BC government has updated the guide and service dog legislation (though it still requires more work) and there are more programs and professionals services to help people, though many are not recognized by the government so the influx of dogs in public with inadequate training continues to increase.

What more needs to be done?

In order for our program to continue to impact our community on a greater scale Leash of Hope seeks resources to build a facility and increase staffing outside of Vancouver in other communities. Though our impact has a great impact on the clients and dogs we help, we feel strongly about advocating for the rights of disabled individuals who utilize service dogs and hope that our continued voice and presence in the community will help to bring awareness. Currently, the landscape of the service and guide dog industry needs improving in order for the public to be better informed and so that those who need access to a service or guide dog are able to.

Side note: issue with legislation and BC service dog industry is a rather large one, one which I have written a whole other article piece for another media outlet that was never picked up due to covid being the main focus.

How can our readers help?

We are in great need of monetary support and volunteers. Volunteer opportunities such as puppy raising make a huge impact. Those that cannot care for a dog but have specialized skills such as grant writing, social media skills, or other administrative skills are volunteer positions we greatly need to be filled. Monetary donations can be made through our CanadaHelps page. These donations support clients’ fundraising to cover the expense of the dog, or general costs of running our program which allows us to rescue more dogs and help a greater number of people. Chordate donations, grants, and sponsorships are resources that would make a significant impact and allow our program to expand, by bringing on more staff and upgrading our training space access (from donated public space to a permanent location which was being sought out prior to covid).

Do you have any events coming up?

Leash of Hope’s Gala Pawject Runway: this is our first charitable gala event for fall 2022. This event will feature a cocktail hour with a dog couture fashion show, where each piece will be live auctioned off. There will also be a silent auction.

Christmas Virtual Craft Sale: for the month of November you can support our program by doing some of your holiday shopping through a virtual craft fair, many of the items are made by our volunteers and clients, this supports crafters with disabilities and of course the dogs. You can also purchase our annual calendar and holiday cards that feature beautiful photography of our dogs.

6th Annual showcase: February 2023 this is a family fun pub night where our handler and dog duos put on a talent show to demonstrate the extensive training they have along with some trick training. Tickets include a burger and a drink!

Where can we follow you?

Facebook | Instagram | Website

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity/non-profit that you love?

KASA! Kootney Adaptive Sports association provides services for people all over BC, allowing people with disabilities to get out in nature, and live life to the fullest. “People are only disabled when the world around is not designed to include them” Danielle Main.