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Pitching in Liz Saul of COPE Services Dogs in Barrie. COPE trains service dogs but also places dogs in schools with at-risk students to help them gain leadership skills. Dr. Saul, a former vet, is chair of COPE and helps with fundraising. HandoutHandout

The organizer: Liz Saul

The pitch: Helping raise around $300,000 annually

The cause: COPE Service Dogs

Liz Saul has spent more than 40 years working with animals as a veterinarian, consultant and volunteer.

Ms. Saul recently retired as a vet and she devotes much of her free time to COPE Service Dogs as chair of the board. COPE – which stands for Canine Opportunity, People Empowerment – is based in Barrie, Ont., and it trains dogs to help people in need.

It also runs an innovative program that pairs dogs-in-training with at-risk high-school students. The students teach the dogs various commands such as how to open doors, turn on lights and retrieve items. The dogs also work with elementary pupils who have trouble reading. “Kids who are reluctant readers with humans will happily read to a dog, which is pretty incredible,” Ms. Saul said.

It takes two years to train a service dog and COPE graduates 10 a year. The dogs are used by people who have mobility issues and in various facilities including hospices. Ms. Saul said it costs around $30,000 to train a dog and the charity has to raise around $300,000 annually.

This month COPE is getting a boost from Telus Communications Inc. and its Friendly Future Foundation. The foundation has launched an online fundraising campaign called Critter Comforts. It’s a 15-minute video on YouTube that features a collection of animals. The foundation is donating $1 for every view until the end of March, up to $100,000. The money will go to several animal-related charities including COPE which will receive as much as $10,000.

Ms. Saul said studies have shown that watching videos of animals can reduce stress. “It brings a smile to your face just watching them,” she said. The Telus campaign is “an easy way for people who might monetarily find it difficult to support organizations like COPE to just give us a little bit of their time, and raise the money that way.”