Paws and Poems

Paws and Poems is a partnership between Medicine Hat Cowboy Poetry Foundation and Redcliff Meliora Service Dogs, with funding provided by the Government of Canada, New Horizons for Seniors program.

Our mandate for the project was to collect and tell the stories of Service Dogs and their Handlers in the Medicine Hat area, primarily members of the Meliora Service Dogs group. We proposed to video-record their stories, capture those stories in poetry and song, and publish a book of their biographies and poetry.

The project evolved to include Other Dogs That Serve Us (or don’t, as in Jim Koch’s dog, Jake) and a few stories about Other Pawed Creatures, like our illustrator, Faye Moria Fedrau’s ode to her grandfather, Max Riecken and his deadly encounter with a lynx.

Our book, Paws and Poems is available by contacting Jen Zollner at or phone 403.529.6384

Our video series will be released over the months of April and May 2023.

See below.

Note: all excerpts are from our book, Paws and Poems.

Jamie Billings and Indigo

Jamie’s mission in life is now to help anybody that needs help, especially to find a dog that will meet their specific needs. He often refers to these dogs as “medical devices” and compares them to wheelchairs.  Having been asked to leave many businesses because of his dog, (which is illegal), Jamie is a passionate advocate for Service Dogs and their handlers.

Tammy Willis and Oliver

  “He grounds me when I need to be grounded. He provides an emotional connection and most importantly he’s taught me that it’s okay to trust people and trust connections and relationships with people.”

Kim Dirk and Vesta

“I thought I was getting this dog for blood sugar awareness, but this dog is everything to me. She was only five months old, a puppy, when she alerted Mark because she couldn’t wake me. There are a few times she’s saved my life since then.”

Annette Batten and Frank

“Without Frank I fear I may still be a prisoner in my home. Afraid, anxious, physically sick and hyper-vigilant at just the thought of going anywhere. Frank’s patience and support has given me the strength to face my demons and work on living life in the moment and taking one step at a time. He encourages me, supports me when I feel like a failure and even helps me up when I’m stuck on the ground. Oh! And he’s a masterful alarm clock!”

BJ and Curz

BJ, Jamie and all the Meliora participants celebrate “the successes of people who before that would not go out or not do anything with their children. That’s why we do it, for that reason alone.”

Annette Hewitt and Montego

When Annette’s sugars get too low, Montego’s job is to automatically get her tester, honey and juice out of the fridge (and close the fridge door, without being told).   At the drug store Annette takes a little cloth bag for her medication refills. “When I tell him ‘pharmacy’, he carries the bag into the drug store for me, puts it on the pharmacy counter, goes to the other end and waits there till they give the bag back to him. From there he puts it on the counter so I can pay for my medication.”

Cassandra and Nova

As this story shows, dogs can get PTSD too. And in most cases are the first responders in the household. Oakley saved Cassandra’s life and the lives of her family. JZ

Josie Fitterer, Service Dog Breeder, Retired

Her favourite saying is, “In my darkest moment, I reached for a hand and found a paw”. She concludes our interview by saying, “If I could relive any part of my life, that’s the part I’d live again, my work with dogs.”

James Koch and Jake

The proof of his love for animals is how dogs and cats gravitate to him. He has many stories about the dogs in his past, one of which is the love-hate relationship he had with Jake, whom you might say was the opposite of the service dogs featured in this book and video series! Jim dreams of having a Corgi some day.

Ken Kundert and KC

From Canine Ranchhand: “KC might be graying, but there’s no way she’s staying indoors, in the house near the fold/ She’s been on this ranch since she’s seven weeks old,/To Ken she’s worth more than her weight in pure gold,/She’s a cattle dog battered, her ears are all tattered, but no way admitting her body is old.”

Faye Moria Fedrau

From the poem, Ode to Max Hans Riecken by Faye Moris Fedreau. “Heading back at a leisurely pace/He noticed a stirring in a bush/ Went over to check out the case/ A lynx put him on his back with a push

With a survival instinct, Max reached for his knife/The lynx attacked viciously with sharp claws/He made a slash at the throat to protect his life/However, it took many thrusts to stop the deadly paws.”

Old Cowboy and Old Dog by Shelley Goldbeck

Harry Forbes’ dog story

                                                       Syd’s Dog Left Home

Syd Doe was a WWI veteran -fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. After being discharged, it was to Maple Creek that he and his dog came. In 1928 he married Edna Koester. When their son Dick was born in 1934, the dog was pretty put out. Someone else was getting all the affection. In 1935 when their daughter Mary Ellen was born, the dog left home and lived behind the Post Office. If Edna, the mother, came downtown for the mail, the dog was friendly. If she came downtown pushing the baby carriage, the dog crossed over to the other side of the street and would have nothing to do with her.

From “Our Home on the Range” by Harry Forbes. See our series Harry Forbes Remembers.

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