Gift of independence given to a special little boy – ADC Hartley finds his new forever home

(Samantha Cooper of Ability Dogs Canada, Joanne Rodgers (in middle), owner of Kiddie Kobbler-Stittsville and Samantha’s daughter Raina who also trains ability dogs, are proudly waiting for the arrival of ADC Hartley’s new forever family. Samantha worked with Joanne training ADC Hartley for almost two years to ensure he was an excellent ability dog and perfect for a child. Photos: Stittsville Central and Joanne Rodgers)

It all began in 2021 when Joanne Rodgers, Stittsville resident and owner of Kiddie Kobbler Shoes-Stittsville, had the family’s yellow Labrador Boomer enrolled in training at Ability Dogs Canada in Carleton Place. Joanne had enrolled him to become a therapy dog for sensory training. Boomer would be able to assist at the store during the special sensory nights for youth who experience autism that Joanne thoughtfully hosts. Boomer would assist by eliminating distractions that may effect the children. While at the training, Joanne realized that service dogs provide assistance like none other for children with health issues such as autism, seizures and mobility limitations to name a few. It was then that she had an incredible idea.

(Boomer and ADC Hartley wait patiently for the treats they regularly receive from Joanne’s neighbour, Ben Butler. It has become their favourite hang-out!)

With the anguish of owning a business during COVID and the recent passing of her mother in 2021, Joanne wanted to bring more positivity to her life. Not that she didn’t already do positive charitable work through her charity, Shoes on Their Feet, by donating shoes and boots to children and families at Bayshore Public School and the Caldwell Family Centre, who can ill-afford such footwear. In the charity’s inaugural year, 2019, she donated over 600 pairs of shoes, garnering her the nickname of ‘Shoe Fairy’. In 2023, she is also adding Arch Street Public School to receive donations.

So, her incredible idea – why not foster an ability dog with her family, Matt and Ben, to improve the life of a child.

At eight weeks old, the puppy was brought home. The puppy was quickly named Hartley after Joanne’s mother’s last name. Having ADC Hartley (ADC is used for therapy dogs enrolled in Ability Dogs Canada) helped Joanne get through her grieving and missing her Mom. From day one, he has been calm, attentive, quick to learn, and possesses a personality of his own. ADC Hartley is from Masonridge Retrievers – Mallorytown, Ontario.

It is expensive to foster and train an ability dog, anywhere from $17,000 to $18,000. That was not a deterrent for Joanne. With years of running tough races, Joanne began running with a reason – to raise funds for ADC Hartley. She has participated in the Ottawa Marathon (virtually), the Lumberjack Plus Challenge, held a five-hour ‘spin-a-thon’ outside of Kiddie Kobbler, the Mont Tremblant Ironman, the Lake Placid Marathon and the Boston Marathon – all to raise funds for ADC Hartley being her motivation. She could also be seen running 50km along the Trans Canada Trail on Marathon Weekend in 2021 finishing at Village Square Park.

As Joanne said, “If you have ever thought about fostering a service dog I have to say it’s the most rewarding job ever! I get asked all the time ‘will it be hard to give the dog back, yes absolutely’. ‘Will there be tears’, yes – and I rarely cry!’ But, just think how much of a difference you’ll make in someone else’s life. Just think how much of a part you’ll play in the dog’s life story, not to mention the life long friends you’ll make with the pup’s forever family.”

Not only is it expensive to foster an ability dog, another cost comes into play – time commitment. Joanne has taken ADC Hartley to several locations for training, alongside his training at Ability Dogs Canada where Samantha Cooper, the founder and dog trainer, has been training ability dogs for over 20 years and has trained over 60 dogs.

(ADC Hartley learns to use stairs.)

Needing training in all types of settings, ADC Hartley took dentist training, but it’s not what you think. A visit to Warmstone Family Dentistry in Stittsville allowed ADC Hartley to learn his down/stay command where he did an amazing job.

Just to provide an idea of what the training and time commitment involves, Hartley has been trained in:

  • Sit/Stay/Wait/Watch training when wearing his jacket at various locations, including Tanger Outlets and Bayshore Shopping Centre where many distractions occur.
  • Recall training when name called, especially when out on a walk and his four-legged friends are present.
  • Touch command to open automatic doors.
  • Sensory Training – to walk on a metal grate floor or honeycomb flooring.
  • Press command – knowing to put his paw on your foot to help control anxiety or panic attacks. He’s able to detect a faster breath or sudden fidgeting and he would know to ‘watch’ his person to help them.
  • At Mont Tremblant during Joanne’s competition in an Ironman last summer, he accompanied her to learn even more. He rode with Joanne up the mountain on the Cabriolet and was instructed to ‘watch’ and again was amazing like the good ability dog he is.
  • ‘Watch’ command when loose leash walking.
  • ‘Under’ command – used in restaurants, airplanes, etc. where he would be underneath the table or seat.
  • Being comfortable in an elevator – he was slightly nervous when it jerks, but with Joanne’s training to calm him, he was soon over his nervousness.

Some of his favourite fans were at Brown’s YIG where he practiced his ‘leave it, wait and watch’, and where ADC Hartley is loved. Joanne took him for his last visit with the staff this past week to say so-long – there were tears in some eyes.

Of course, ADC Hartley could often be found at Kiddie Kobbler where he did an amazing job of ‘good/down/stay’ while customers entered and shopped or at the gym while Joanne trained, where he learned ‘stay by me’ and ‘watching me’.

After all this training and almost two years of devoted love and commitment by Joanne and her family, ADC Hartley was ready to meet his new forever family. Though many families were considered, there was one that was front of mind for both Samantha and Joanne – she also played a large part in deciding who would receive ADC Hartley as her gift. An exciting, but bittersweet, day was quickly approaching.

Joanne told us, “We will be sad when he leaves and there will be tears for days, but he’s going to go and do amazing things for someone else – a young boy who is so deserving“. “It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences we have have ever done.”

When the day arrived, Thursday, February 16th, after a preliminary meeting with the family the previous week, we were invited to meet ADC Hartley’s trainer, Samantha and her daughter Raina (who also trains dogs). As we waited for the family to arrive, Samantha walked us through what it takes to train the dogs sharing her positive experience with training ADC Hartley, as he roughhoused with Boomer on the store floor. Seeing the two dogs playing, it was hard to believe that ADC Hartley was an ability dog, but once his Ability Dogs Canada ‘Working Do Not Pet’ jacket was put on, well he became a completely well-trained ability dog. Samantha emphasized, “how much they loved ADC Hartley and Joanne for what she has done and were overjoyed to see ADC Hartley go to his new family”.

(ADC Hartley greets Griffin with a favourite stuffed toy when Griffin and his family arrive.)

The private moment had arrived near the end of the day, the store door opened and in came Griffin with his Mom and Dad (Michelle and Adam) following behind. “Hi everyone – who’s the photographer?” an excited Griffin asked. Well, it was us who were honoured to be invited to capture this bittersweet moment for Griffin, his family, Joanne and Samantha. Everyone was very excited when Griffin and his family had arrived and when hugs and greetings with Joanne and Samantha were over, ADC Hartley knew to go to Griffin as he sensed where he was needed. Griffin knew this as well and gave big pets to ADC Hartley and they played with a favourite stuffed toy. Everyone had tears of joy.

ADC Hartley will assist Griffin when he moves from his walker to a chair or to his school desk chair by being there for Griffin to lean on as he walks. He’ll be there whenever and wherever Griffen needs assistance. And especially, ADC Hartley will be there when Griffin hands out treats – something that ADC Hartley easily accepts! – these were used as a reward during his training.

It will take a couple of weeks for ADC Hartley to adapt to his new family as well as for Griffin to give the commands. Both Joanne and Samantha will be in close contact to ensure everything goes smoothly and will be available to assist. ADC Hartley may also learn a new language, as Griffin is totally bilingual.

Having met Griffin and his family, we can see why Joanne chose Griffin to receive ADC Hartley. He is a loving, inquisitive and happy little boy who is so deserving of a precious gift such as this. We are sure that ADC Hartley will enjoy his new forever home and the work ahead of him – he has big ‘paws’ to fill and will be an incredible ability dog.

Joanne emphasized, “I can’t thank those who have supported me and ADC Hartley over the past 678+ days who have helped me through this journey and donated over the past year”. She is extremely proud of ADC Hartley and will continue to be in touch with the family including a summer get-together so Boomer and Hartley can roughhouse some more.

Ability Dogs Canada (ADC) is a service dog training school that trains Service Dogs and Intervention Dogs – locally in Carleton Place, Ontario. For some people, the wait for a service dog is too long, so ADC offers a unique ADC Trainer Assist Training Program. ADC has placed Service Dogs with individuals in need of support, and Intervention Dogs with organizations such as Victim Services and school boards, to help them better connect with their clients. ADC services Canada from coast to coast with the goal of helping people through the use of highly trained K9s. Visit them at to learn more about the incredible work they do!


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