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Specially trained Dog Guides give people a new lease on life

'More of these specialty dogs are making their way to North Bay. It gives them the confidence to go out more in public. Just getting around makes life a lot easier' Melanie Pigeau
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Albert has made a world of difference at the Giroux home.

The four-legged animal is a seeing-eye-dog for John Giroux’s wife.

“She can get on a bus and go anywhere in town now. He has given her the confidence she needed to get out. She’s able to cross streets without a problem, and I don’t have to worry when I’m away from the house. If it wasn’t for him, she would be at home, locked in the house,” said Giroux.

“She had to go to Oakville for four weeks to train with the dog. They bonded almost instantaneously. And I’ve got a friend. When he’s not working, he’s usually with me. He’s been a great addition to the family.”

That confidence to go out of the house comes from knowing the dog is well trained.

The Pet Value Walk for Dog Guides hosted by the Widdifield Lions Club raises money to train dog guides for people in the area.   

On Sunday, close to 100 people and between 60 to 70 dogs took part in the North Bay walk to raise money for the training and matching process.

“As our walk gets bigger I’ve been noticing an increase in the number of dog guides coming to North Bay, “ said walk chair Melanie Pigeau.

The cost to raise, train and place a dog is $25,000.

“There’s actually quite an extensive process to train the dogs. At first, they go to their regular foster homes for the first year, and then they go to the training facility in Oakville and train in their specific field of work for about four to six months,” explained Pigeau.

The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides’ head office and national training school is located in Oakville.

A potential owner must make a commitment to go through their own training process.

“Once they have found the perfect match between a person and a dog, they then go train together for a few weeks. They stay in rooms there during that time, learning every day to work together. It’s all part of the service at no cost to the person receiving the dog guide.”

There are six very specific types of guide dogs.

Canine vision is for people who are blind or visually impaired, hearing is for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, autism assistance is for children who have autism spectrum disorder, service dogs are for people who have a physical disability, seizure response dogs are for people with epilepsy, and there is a dog trained for diabetic alert.

“Typically they’re Labs. They do have some poodles, usually standard poodles. Sometimes they’ll have the mini-poodles but not often, it’s more for someone in need living in an apartment.”

Pigeau says more of these specialty dogs are making their way to North Bay.  

 “We’ve had many people in North Bay assisted through this program. I’ve seen them from receiving the dog, through to retirement. It’s actually pretty amazing to watch how much it changes them. The dogs give them more confidence, they go out more in public. Just getting around makes life a lot easier.”

Venise Levesque owns a 13-year-old retired special skills dog guide named Echo.

“His client was in a wheelchair, so Echo was trained to open doors, and pick up stuff off the floor, help him get dressed and undressed,” said Levesque.

“In the end, the client needed more than the dog could provide. He needed a personal support worker, so he retired Echo a little early. He retired him at six, normally the dog lets you know when he’s ready to retire.”

Levesque had applied for a change of career dog, which are dogs that don’t graduate from guide dog school. She was looking for a well-trained family pet.  

“Because Echo was so young, they called and offered him to me and I said yes. I purchased him because they’re trained, they’re well behaved, and they’re beautiful pets. I like well-behaved animals, so it was the perfect pet for me. I’ve had him for seven years. He’s now profoundly deaf so I’m looking after him now.”

Another fundraiser is planned for Sunday, June 10th.  From noon until 3 p.m. the Widdifield Lions Club is holding a dog wash.

“We’re outside at Northern Occasions on Lakeshore Drive. We have volunteers washing dogs of all sizes. We have hoses hooked up to the laundry facilities, so the water will be warm. There’s a barbecue and raffles as well. The dogs leave with a bandana and a homemade dog treat. It’s a minimum $5 donation.”




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