More canines from around the country will soon be helping more people as the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides expands its training programs to include assistance dog guides for children and families living with autism.
The new initiative will complement the school’s existing dog guide programs, which include canine vision, hearing ear, special skills and seizure response.
“It’s definitely a huge benefit, for not only the foundation, but also for the new age demographic that we’re going to be able to help – this is opening up a huge window of younger children that will be able to benefit from this service as well as their parents,” said Melissa Eckersley, the organization’s manager of communications.
“Autism assistance dog guides help not only the children but the parents cope with that disability; from studies that we’ve seen, the dogs really make a huge difference in their lives.”
Up until the recent announcement that the Lions would train dogs to help people dealing with autism, the organization trained the canines to work with people who are blind or visually impaired, for people with hearing disabilities; and for those suffering from seizures or other medical or physical disabilities.
It appears that there has always been a demand for Dog Guides for people living with autism, but only with recent changes and funding has the Lions Foundation been able to go beyond referring applicants to other organizations and actually train dogs at the Oakville and Breslau facilities.
“Now we’ve grown and we’ve undergone renovations here at the school so that we can accommodate another type of dog guide program being trained here,” said Eckersley of the area breeding and training centres.
The organization recently retained the services of Chris Fowler, a well known figure in the autism assistance dog guide world. Fowler, who has worked throughout the world with other schools building similar programs, was crucial in helping the Lions implement their own.
The first class of dogs trained for the new program is expected to graduate in January.
The dogs are bred at the Oakville and Breslau facilities and then fostered for a year by volunteer families. After that point the dogs return to the facilities for a four to six month training period. Each trainer has approximately six to eight dogs in his or her “string.”
On an annual basis, The Lions Foundation provides some 120 recipients, nation-wide with dogs. It costs approximately $20,000 to train and accommodate one dog, which is then donated to the person it will aid.