Canada guide dogs foundation introduce day school program for dogs in training

By David Zura

The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides is doing some truly exceptional work to benefit Canadians with limited independence, made possible in large part to volunteers.

The organization is now trying something new, a day school program it hopes will appeal to families who would want to foster a dog in training but find the typical fostering commitment impractical.

“Demand for dog guides is increasing each and every year. The pandemic impacted every organization obviously, but it impacted us because we had to send our dogs home,” said Maria Galindo with the foundation. “So, we had to halt training so there was a backlog of the number of clients we were able to assist at that time.”

Unlike the more familiar foster programs, families enrolled with the day school host dogs in their homes, but not during the day. Instead, dogs are dropped off at the training centre in the morning and then picked back up for the evening.

“The dogs work throughout the day and they’re learning all the skills they need in order to help someone with a medical or physical condition,” explained Galindo.

In addition to opening foster opportunities to more families, the foundation said the program is especially helpful for those dogs who need a break from kennel environment, making them more likely to graduate from their training programs.

“They had an excellent model where they send a lot of their dogs to day school. So, we wanted to replicate that because of the success rate that we saw. It increased their chances of graduating, so obviously we want that.”

Ann Imrie-Howlett and her husband John have welcome Logue into their home in Oakville. Logue is training in the Canine Vision program.

“It’s like having a kid, you take them to school for nine in the morning and you pick them up in the afternoon,” shared Imrie-Howlett. “It gives me a sense of purpose.”

She adds 24-hour fostering likely wouldn’t have been practical, but this is now the second dog in training the Imrie-Howlett family have welcomed home. “This gives me the doggie love, the responsibility, the companionship and the purpose, that is perfect.”

And when the dogs graduate, it’s for people just like Sherry-Lynne MacWilliams. MacWilliams has been having seizures for over 50 years. She never thought to have a dog for help until her family noticed another dog picked up when she was having a seizure.

She met her dog for the first time on Wednesday and was looking forward to all the things she could now do.

“Going on a bus to the mall. You know and not having to ask somebody ‘Can you take me?’ because there’s been too many times when I felt that I don’t want bother anybody,” shared MacWilliams. “It’s kind of dangerous, and so I just don’t. Just feeling I have a little bit of independence and I can go somewhere with my dog.”

“A lot of people have come together to make these moments like mine possible.”

The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides will be hosting their annual walk on May 28. The organization does not receive public funding, instead entirely supported through private donation. Anyone interested in the day program is also invited to get in touch.

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