Lions Foundation of Canada train dog guides for seven different disabilities.
Westport Lions Roar
By Lion Bob Reddick
In a speech to Lions at the 1925 international conference held at Cedar Point, Ohio, Helen Keller challenged Lions around the world to be “Knights of the Blind in the crusade against darkness.” Lions International accepted this challenge and from that point on has initiated several programs to bring people out of darkness.
One of the many programs to help the blind is the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. More than 2,900 Canadians have had their lives enhanced because of a guide dog.
The mission of the “Lions Foundation of Canada’s is to assist Canadians with a medical or physical disability by providing them dog guides at no cost.” The cost to train and place a guide dog anywhere in Canada is $25,000. The Foundation relies on donations from Lions clubs, individuals, service clubs, foundations and corporations and fundraising events like Walk for Dog Guides but does not receive any government funding.
You might recall that a couple of years ago the Perth Lions Club with the help of the Westport Lions and other area clubs raised enough money to purchase a guide dog for a local blind woman. They called this initiative, “Pennies for Puppies.”
Lions Foundation of Canada train dog guides for seven different disabilities. The first program established was Canine Vision in 1985, which helps people who are blind or visually impaired. Since then Lion Foundation has grown to include:
Hearing – for people who are deaf or hard of hearing
Service – for people who have a physical disability
Seizure Response – for people who have epilepsy
Autism Assistance – for children who have autism spectrum disorder
Diabetic Alert – for people who have type 1 diabetes with hypoglycemic unawareness
Support – for use by professional agencies with individuals in traumatic situations
The most common breeds used for guide dogs are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Standard Poodles and Miniature Poodles. The trainers look for dogs that exhibit stability, intelligence and willingness to work.
Dog Guides Canada breeds approximately 90 per cent of its dog guides at its breeding facility in Breslau, Ontario. International dog schools and breeders across Canada generously donate the remaining 10 per cent.
It takes four to six months to fully train a dog guide by a qualified trainer. All dogs are trained to perform a set of basic skills that are useful to all handlers. In addition, some of their training is tailored to meet the specific needs of their future handler. The dog guide is then matched with its handler and together they live and train together for two to four weeks at Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides head office and training facility in Oakville, Ontario.
Approximately 65% of puppies graduate as a dog guide. The dogs that are not chosen because of temperament or health are sold to suitable families.
The average retirement age for a guide dog is between eight and ten years old. Retired dogs usually live with a family member, neighbour, or friend of the handler after their service.
If you are interested in reading more about the training of dog guides go to the Westport Library ask for the book entitled, “Always By Our Side … Mitchell’s Story” by Susan Kerr. This very readable book is “a foster puppy’s account of his first year preparing to be a future dog guide. He taught his foster family everything they needed to know about life!”
The guide dogs enable the handlers to have confidence to pursue travel, education, careers and activities that they enjoy. (The source for this article is Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides – Providing Dog Guides to Canadians with Disabilities, https://www.dogguides.com/index.html)