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'He loves cuddling': Red Deer Victim Services has new facility dog to help people impacted by crime

Argo, the facility dog at Red Deer Victim Services on Jan. 18, 2024. (Adel Ahmed/CTV News Edmonton) Argo, the facility dog at Red Deer Victim Services on Jan. 18, 2024. (Adel Ahmed/CTV News Edmonton)
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The City of Red Deer and Red Deer RCMP introduced the newest member of the city's Victim Services team on Thursday.

Argo, a two-year-old yellow lab, officially joined the team as a facility dog after completing his training with Dogs With Wings.

"He's brought in to assist Victim Services clients, whether they're in the role of a victim, a witness or a family member even, or anyone that is impacted by crime who can benefit from the emotional comfort that Argo can provide," Const. Grace Jeanveau told reporters at a Thursday news conference.

"You think about all the files that we have as police. And we often forget about the victims," said Const. Cory Riggs.

"Unfortunately, there's kids who also need help in court, because courts are a scary place for people who haven't been there."

Argo replaces Harley who worked as a facility dog for the Victim Services team from 2018 to 2022.

"He was such a good dog, very sweet," said Riggs of Harley. "He was good with victims and also anyone who came by. He did over 800 hours of work with victims, so he put in his time."

Argo's trainers say his personality makes him a perfect candidate for his new job.

Argo, the facility dog at Red Deer Victim Services on Jan. 18, 2024. (Adel Ahmed/CTV News Edmonton)

"Argo wasn't the biggest fan of picking things up. And so that led us to not pick the mobility service dog stream, because those dogs have to pick up items all the time," said Piera Angotti, the training manager of Dogs With Wings.

"He loves cuddling. So the fact that he loves cuddling, he loves to be with people, that helped us choose the facility dog stream for him."

Angotti says there's been increasing demand for facility dogs in recent years.

"We have an ongoing waitlist. Currently applications for facility dogs are closed, and that's because we were trying to meet the demand of applications that we previously had."

Dogs With Wings is a charitable organization and has been training dogs since 1996. The facility dog program was added in 2009.

Other graduates of the program have gone to centres such as the Zebra Child Protection Centre in Edmonton. Harley also graduated from Dogs With Wings.

Angotti says it costs about $40,000 to train a dog. Those costs are covered by fundraising and donations. Argo's training was covered by a donation from Booster Juice.

His day-to-day expenses will also be covered for the duration of his employment, thanks to a donation by students from Notre Dame High School.

"In 2023, they announced that we would be the recipient of their grad service project. They worked really hard and raised over $30,000 for our unit," said Jeanveau.

"These funds will go to cover the lifelong costs of Argo, whether that is food, medication, anything that you could think that a dog would need over his lifetime."

Argo, the facility dog at Red Deer Victim Services on Jan. 18, 2024. (Adel Ahmed/CTV News Edmonton)

"They actually have no idea how appreciative we are of being chosen to be the recipients of that donation and all of the work that they did for us."

Riggs says Argo will work with the unit until he indicates that he's ready to retire.

"Once they kind of get a bit too old, they retire and it's nice. We get a new dog. And it's also nice because Harley, he got to go to a forever home. So he gets to play around a little bit."

And he says it won't just be victims Argo provides therapy to.

"Police work is oftentimes challenging and often difficult, you go through a lot of emotional trauma. It's always good knowing that if I have a bad day, or I'm just not feeling the best, I can walk over the Argo."

"He gives good handshakes, and also good hugs."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Adel Ahmed 

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