Dogs and dog lovers alike gathered at Centennial Park last weekend to raise funds and awareness of the importance of guide dogs.
The Lions Club Purina Walk for Dog Guides in Ponoka raised $5,356 towards dog training programs intended to help people who need these animals in their lives.
Guide dogs provide something more than just companionship.
Training isn’t cheap, though. Dixie Tyndall, chairperson of the fundraiser says the average cost for training one dog is $25,000. The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides program is located in Oakville, Ont. and part of the cost involves flying disabled people to Oakville to be matched with a dog and then trained.
“They breed and raise the dogs,” explained Tyndall.
Dogs are trained to help with a variety of disabilities such as seeing, hearing, autism assistance, service for physical needs individuals, seizure response and diabetic alert.
Companions with purpose
Don Scorah brought his standard poodle, Enzo, who is trained to help Scorah navigate streets since he is blind. This is his third guide dog and Scorah says having one frees him to move about with complete trust in Enzo.
Petting a guide dog while its harness is on is not allowed said Scorah. The reason? When their harness is on, they are in work mode and petting them can be a distraction. Scorah’s wife Brenda MacKay says that is a big challenge for adults but most children understand they need to let the dogs work.
“When he’s not (harnessed), he’s full puppy,” said MacKay fondly.
The relationship between guide dog and a disabled person is special, said Scorah. They are almost always together and Scorah says it frees up his world. Once they get used to each other he said they grow as a team.
Once a dog becomes 11-years-old, they retire the animal who is then sent back to Oakville where they will be adopted. In Scorah’s case, MacKay was able to adopt their previous guide dog.
Other uses for guide dogs
Some dogs have specialized training to detect seizures. Brianna Odland suffers from epileptic seizures and has a guide dog called Django who can detect if she is about to have an attack.
Her dog will whine if a seizure is imminent and Odland says this gives her time to stop and sit. But Django will also bark for help if a seizure does come and will even grab her cell phone if no one is around.
“The word ‘fetch’ for her is not the same as most dogs because with that word she just grabs my cell phone,” explained Odland.
Guide dogs from the Oakville centre are owned by the centre and are given out to special needs individuals who are required to show they can care for the animals.