Comox Valley boy grateful for donations to train service dogs

Sam Sterk spent his eighth birthday seeing how his fundraising efforts will help service-dogs-to-be.

Sam Sterk spent his eighth birthday seeing how his fundraising efforts will help service-dogs-to-be at the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS).

The Courtenay boy started the fundraiser in memory of Faith, his family’s 13-year-old golden retriever that passed away in November. Although Faith was the family dog, she also worked as a therapy dog with Sam’s mom Nicole Burgess, who is a musical therapist.

The fundraiser finished Friday, and on Sam’s birthday (Saturday), he and his family went to the Lower Mainland so he could personally donate the $4,100 raised to PADS, where Faith was trained.

“I feel like I’ve done something that I’ve never done before,” says Sam. “I feel like I’ve done something for Faith, who passed away, and if my dog were here I bet she would be proud.

“I really appreciate how the community has helped me a lot with this fundraiser and I’ve really enjoyed doing it.”

The first thing Sam did to fundraise was ask his family to give him money for Christmas instead of presents for himself. He then set up a community donation jar at the Potters Place in Courtenay, and asked his family to give him money for PADS instead of birthday presents, too.

He also asked his Grade 2 class at École Puntledge Park for fundraising help. The class held a bake sale and wrote letters asking veterinary clinics and pet stores in the Comox Valley and Campbell River if they could donate specific items needed to help train the dogs, or money to buy those items.

The students raised $536 and received 21 kongs (dog toys), 25 leashes, 21 collars and an exercise pen for puppy training as well as gift cards.

Sam took all his class’ donations to PADS Saturday, along with the more than $3,500 he raised all by himself.

“On the day at PADS, a lot of people came out and brought their PADS dogs in training and it was super great to visit with the dogs,” recalls Sam. “I also got to participate in a puppy training class with a dog named Journey and I worked with her on turning on a light switch, opening a door and touching a target.

“I learned more ways that PADS dogs help people and heard some great stories about how a service dog can help someone with disabilities.”

According to the PADS website, PADS breeds, raises, trains and places service dogs, hearing dogs and canine assisted intervention dogs. Service dogs help people who are physically disabled, and are trained to do a wide variety of tasks like pull wheelchairs, retrieve the phone, and pick up dropped items like keys.

It takes $50,000 to $90,000 to train one dog and not all dogs graduate the training process to these positions. Those who don’t graduate are usually placed as ‘very important pets,’ to help children with a developmental or physical disability.

Burgess says many PADS volunteers turned up to help make Sam’s day special, and some brought donations for Sam’s birthday, too, even though they already donate so much of their time to raise and train the dogs.

“It was amazing. It was overwhelming just to see what a little person could accomplish,” says Burgess, adding the family is thankful for the support the Comox Valley showed Sam.

“What an amazing community we live in that has supported Sam so that he can support PADS; he couldn’t have done that without the friends, and the family and the businesses, and the community as a whole.”

For more information about PADS, visit


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