Who’s a good boy? U.S. aid for Canada’s critical guide dog shortage


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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.”

PORT HURON, MI- November 17, 2020. Handover of Henson, a labrador from Michigan that was sent to Canada to begin training as a CNIB guide dog, at the Michigan Welcome Centre in Port Huron. Photo courtesy CNIB
The handoff: Staff from CNIB Guide Dogs met staff from Leader Dogs for the Blind in Port, Huron Michigan to transfer the six dogs to Canadian care. jpg

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.”

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Henson is one of six dogs from Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills, Mich., to begin his training in Canada with CNIB Guide Dogs in Carleton Place. Julie Oliver/Postmedia
Henson will board with Sandra Luty and her family in Carleton Place until he’s ready to begin training with CNIB Guide Dogs. Julie Oliver/Postmedia Photo by Julie Oliver /Postmedia