Bill Pyle | Jul 14, 2011
We took to the road at 7 a.m., leaving from Sharbot Lake. We made several stops along the way to pick up folks from Verona, Kingston, Bath, Napanee, Peterborough and Trenton. We were all Lions Club members and we were on our way to the Lions Foundation of Canada’s Dog Guide School in Oakville. We were kept busy along the way with trivia games and a Chinese auction and by the time we got to Toronto we had 36 pumped up and very enthusiastic people on the bus.
None of us really knew what to expect of the facilities at the school and we were all quite surprised at how small the building actually was. We would soon learn just how cramped the training areas are and why they need help in upgrading and expanding their training areas and living quarters.
As we stepped off the bus, a wonderful young woman was waiting to greet us. She said, “They told us that a group of Lions was coming this afternoon and I just wanted to tell you how much we all appreciate your support. Thank you.” She had been waiting with her Dog Guide specifically to show her appreciation to Lions and it made the entire four-hour trip worthwhile just to hear those words.
After lunch our tour guide, Angela, explained that it takes 3 years of full time work at the dog school to become a qualified trainer. They work very long hours because there has to be a staff member in the living quarters, on call for any emergency or questions, 24 hours a day.
The dogs are matched to prospective clients by assessing the needs of the client and by matching the personalities of both the dog and client. The pair then train and live together at the Oakville facility for six weeks to ensure bonding and a team approach to work and on-going care. Their room has an extra bed if the client is bringing a caregiver. The dogs learn how to open doors, get things from the fridge, open and take clothes from the dryer and alert the owner to doorbells, sirens, telephones, & fire alarms. We were thrilled to watch some of the dogs demonstrate their amazing skills. One dog could even read lips!
A typical dog guide is born at their facilities in Breslau, ON and is taken into a foster home for its first year of life to learn normal puppy behaviour. Foster parents are encouraged to socialize their dogs in as many real-life situations as possible. The dogs then come back to the school where each dog’s skills and personality are assessed. Not all dogs are suitable to be dog guides and not all are accepted to continue on. Training programs are both generic, to meet the general needs of all clients, but also specific to the needs of the individual client to whom the dog guide is assigned. A dog’s working life, once it is fully trained, is about 8 - 10 years and finally the dog will be retired and becomes available for adoption to qualified families in the general public.
There is no government funding for this facility. Money comes mainly from Lions clubs and through donations from corporate and private donors. From the birth of a prospective dog guide puppy, through its foster home, to its training and working life, and final retirement, costs about $20,000. This also includes the transportation of the recipient to and from the school, extensive training and room & board at the school. There is no cost to anyone who needs a dog guide and the foundation retains ownership of the dog until it is retired.
It was a long but very rewarding day on the bus. On the way home we reminisced about the devotion of the staff at the school and, of course, the wonderful dogs who dedicate their lives to working for a disabled human who really, really needs them.
Your participation in the Sharbot Lake Lions Walk for Dog Guides is critical to the continued success of this extraordinary facility. There is always the need for another dog and for more space at the school. Please be generous. This year the walk will take place on Sunday, July 31 at noon at the Oso Beach. There will be free food & drinks for registered walkers and prizes for the dog with the longest tail and a dog/owner look-alike contest. To register or make a donation please call Lion Carolyn Bond at 613-279-2502 or visit www.purinawalkfordogguides.com.