The Service Dogs Malta Foundation has three local service dog trainers, Robert Spiteri, Michelle Borg and Lindsey Ciantar, a first for Malta.
Co-founder Joseph Stafrace said this meant that the foundation would now be able to provide more dogs to more people in need, as training them locally significantly reduced the €15,000 cost of training a service dog. Once trained, a service dog is provided to the person it has been matched with for free.
The training is being given by veteran service dog trainers Alan Kordowski and Becky McClintock from Service Dogs, Inc. Texas.
Justyne Caruana, Parliamentary Secretary for Rights of Persons with Disability, praised the work being undertaken by the foundation, saying dogs played a significant role in alleviating daily stress experienced by people with disabilities.
The foundation focuses on training visual assistance dogs, hearing dogs, autism assistance dogs, diabetic alert dogs and mobility support dogs.
Alternattiva Demokratika secretary general Ralph Cassar said more awareness on the different ways dogs could be of service to people with disabilities was, however, needed.
The foundation currently has four dogs ready to be trained – Ilio, Ialta, Bailey and Harley – and a puppy, Hope, that will eventually beget other puppies to be trained. These dogs are taken care of by foster carers, whose job it is to ensure their well-being and to help socialise them as much as possible.
The long-term aim of the foundation is to ensure that no individual who can benefit from a service dog in Malta is left without one.