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“We’ve got six more potential guide dog that we can get in our program in Canada,” Bergeron said. “We have six. We need 50. But this is a fantastic start and the collaboration with Leader Dogs has been phenomenal.”
In return, CNIB Guide Dogs has been providing service to some of Leader Dogs’ Canadian clients, such as doing wellness checks or providing refresher training that the Michigan company can’t do because of the border closure.
“This is the thing about the guide dog world: I called, they helped. They called, we helped,” Bergeron said.
“It’s an amazing combination of everyone pulling together. It’s not, ‘This is your dog, this is my dog. This is your trainer, this is my trainer.’ Instead it’s, ‘This person needs their independence and their freedom. What can we do to give it to them?’”
The shortage has meant that some guide dogs have been working past normal retirement age of eight to 10 years. Another person needs a new guide dog after theirs was struck by a car and can no longer work.
There is no such thing as a waiting list for guide dogs, Bergeron said. She said the was process more like a job interview, where a particular dog with its own skills and strengths is matched with the appropriate applicant. That can take a few months or a year or more, she said.
“The dog and handler is a very, very close bond,” she said. “Let’s be real. These dogs don’t get a paycheque. They do this because they love to work. They love you. They want to keep you safe.”