Whether lending a hand to the visually impaired, or detecting low blood sugar in Type-1 diabetics, guide dogs are integral to helping those with disabilities navigate everyday life.
Lions International is raising money to provide those guide dogs to those that can’t afford to purchase their own.
In Elmira on May 29, dog lovers, walkers and more will be taking to the streets in a pledged fundraising walk to support the Lions Foundation of Canada at the Purina Walk for Dog Guides.
The walk, which takes place in around 200 cities and towns across Canada, raised $1,195,154 last year, providing those in need with specially trained dogs to help them day-to-day.
Nancy Chiasson is one of the fundraisers at this year’s walk, and fosters puppies who will go on to a career as a dog guide for someone in Canada. Irv, the black lab, is currently four months old. She says it takes around $25,000 to fully train and customize a dog guide. None of that cost is passed on to the client.
“The key with the Lions Foundation is that they don’t charge the clients for the dogs. It is huge. They figure it costs $25,000 to raise and train a guide dog and it is given to the client no charge. They also train the client with the dog for no charge as well, so fundraising is really important to the Lions Foundation because of that,” she said, mentioning it is all run on donations and sponsorships. “There is no government funding for this. The Dog Walk is a national day, raising over a million dollars around Canada, so all these little community walks add up for them.”
Deb Cserhalmi, one of the organizers with the Woolwich Community Lions, says it is a great cause, with six different types of guide dogs helping those from all walks of life.
“They have canine vision, hearing ear dogs, they have special skills dogs for people in a wheelchairs. The dogs will open up doors for them and pick up things. Then, autism. They started out just thinking that the dogs were going to be useful just in keeping the child from bolting or running off, then they found out that the dogs are great for the child’s social skills. People will interact with the child, even just asking what the dog’s name is,” she said. “They also have seizure response. The dogs are trained to alert the right people that their person is having a seizure. Our newest one is diabetic detection. The dogs actually detect diabetes. It is for people with Type-1 diabetes. They will tend to pass out because of blood sugar.”
Cserhalmi and Chiasson have a few tips for those who see an guide dog in public, and may want to give it a scratch behind the ear.
“One important thing is that we want people to always ask before you pet the dog. Sometimes the dog is out for promotion, and they can be pet, but other times, the handler or raiser is training them to do something and they will tell them no,” said Cserhalmi. “If they are wearing the red vest, they are working. Do not disturb those dogs.”
Chiasson added that it doesn’t just take a pet to distract a dog guide from its work.
“Making eye contact, or even talking to the dogs is the same thing. It is a distraction,” she said.
Chiasson wants everyone to feel welcome coming to the Purina Walk for Guide Dogs later this month, even just to raise awareness of the program.
“It makes it a great cause to support from that perspective. But, the puppy-raising program is a lot of fun. We are always looking for new people to join us. It is a fascinating organization with really dedicated people,” she said. “We also want people to understand the services the organization provides, all of the things that they can do and the way that they can help.”
To donate, or to sign up for the walk, visit the Purina Walk for Guide Dogs website at www.purinawalkfordogguides.com.