How PADS dogs unleashed this Surrey resident’s local love

Sometimes it can feel like the world has gone to the dogs.

It can be hard to recognize all of the ways in which our communities shine. Whether it be through programs that support our most vulnerable, neighbours who take care of each other, or individuals who tackle unignorable social issues – local love is in action all of the time.

But all it takes is a dog (or two) to see this beauty; to recognize how just one person can transform their community for the better.

For anyone lucky enough to know Cindy Cassidy, they know she is a perfect example of this.

A woman smiles at the camera.

Cindy Cassidy at her desk at United Way

Born and raised in Singapore, she moved to Vancouver 33 years ago. She isn’t shy describing her first impressions of her new city.

“I kept asking myself, ‘Why is it so quiet after 6pm?’ ” she laughs. She was also shocked by how tepid West Coast summers can be.

“I thought, ‘But it’s July! Why is it only 24 degrees? It feels like someone left the air conditioner on outside.’”

She now calls the Strawberry Hills neighbourhood of Surrey home, and loves the diversity afforded to her in this unique pocket of the Lower Mainland.

Making her mark

In her own building, Cindy is a passionate and instrumental community builder, taking on different initiatives so that residents can get to know each other.

The first is based around food – a great cultural and generational bridge.

“Food brings people together and allows them to share their stories,” she says. “We are inviting residents to host monthly cooking classes in our amenities room.”

She and her group have presented their plan to their strata and pending approval, are hoping to begin classes in January.

The second addresses social isolation amongst older residents of the building through a weekly walking group open to everyone.

“The plan is to start with short walks just around our neighbourhood,” says Cindy. “Then we’ll finish off with something hot to drink and a light bite, shared together.”

Cindy recognizes that even with the best intentions, it can sometimes be difficult to break through linguistic or cultural barriers.

Luckily, she has a secret weapon up her sleeve.

Un-‘leashing’ her local love

Since April 2017, Cindy has volunteered with PADS (Pacific Assistance Dogs Society), where she trains and supports assistant dogs who will eventually become companions for people living with disabilities and community care professionals.

A woman holds a dog on a leach in front of a firetruck.

Cindy with her PADS dog MacIntosh, at a local fire hall

For her, nothing breaks down barriers – linguistic, cultural or generational – quicker than a puppy.

“I’m often seen in my neighbourhood walking a PADS dog and this opens up conversations right away,” she says. “Children are naturally curious about the dog and this gives me a way to connect with their parents or grandparents, even if it is just to smile or say hello.”

For Cindy, volunteering with PADS has also opened up another community.

“PADS raisers and sitters come for the dogs, but we stay for the people,” she laughs. “We’re a huge family, pitching in to look after all the ‘kids’.”

The group schedules play dates for the dogs and often will ‘dogsit’ for each other. Mentorship is also a big component of her volunteerism with the organization.

Dogs wear party hats and sit at a beach.

A PADS birthday party

“We guide and support new raisers and sitters, and we support each other through the tough times.”

This includes grief support when a dog is released from service and support during the chaos of whelping (the birth of puppies).

“We drop off meals for the humans and treats for the dogs, do laundry and watch over the puppies so breeder and caretakers can get out for a few hours of sanity.”

A new outlook

Cindy says her time with the group has been life-changing.

“Working with my PADS dogs has brought a renewed purpose into my life. It’s opened up the closed spaces in my heart that I had ignored for years. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of my heart.”

For Tara Doherty, Communications and Marketing Manager with PADS, the feeling is mutual.

Three women stands outside with two golden retrievers.

L-R: Cindy, Lady, Tara Doherty, Emma Hedman and Puma

“Cindy brings such wonderful energy to our team. She’s exceptional with how she engages with the dogs and with our community of volunteers and staff. Her encouragement, gentleness, thoughtfulness – we are so lucky to have her.”

A life-time of volunteering

Giving back to her community is something that has always been a part of Cindy’s life and she credits her parents for instilling this passion at an early age.

“It was a big part of my upbringing,” she says. “Serving others before yourself was pretty much the lesson my parents made us practice daily – whether it was serving food to someone before serving ourselves or holding open the door for someone. Volunteering is not unusual in my family, we all contribute to our communities in some form.”

For her, there is no end to the benefits of giving back.

A woman hugs her dog and they both look at the camera.

Cindy and MacIntosh

“Volunteering feels good. It empowers individuals, no matter who they are, to step into leadership roles, providing opportunities to learn more about ourselves and our capabilities. It gives purpose to life.”

She also loves to see the ripple effects of volunteerism, in her community and beyond.

“I love the thought that every PADS dog I’ve had the opportunity to work with has the potential to change someone’s life. They’ve certainly changed mine.”

Finding the best fit

For anyone looking for new ways to get involved, Cindy recommends finding something that connects you to your community.

“Local love is about caring for the people in your communities – at work, where you volunteer, at home, and every act that you do has the potential to ripple outward further into the broader community.”

To anyone mulling the idea of getting involved with PADS, she has these words of encouragement:

“Our fur kids teach us the most important lesson about love: that it’s unconditional, that it’s imperfect, and that it doesn’t need to be complicated. They’re always present – living in the moment, for the moment.”

Something for us all to aspire to, every day.

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