Martin was in his 30s, and at the beginning of a career in medicine when his vision began deteriorating. Over the years, his vision diminished, eventually curtailing his medical practice and rendering him no longer able to perform surgical procedures. As the years went by, he came to a point where he wasn’t able to drive any longer, and felt a tremendous loss of mobility and independence in the big city he calls home. A white cane became a way to get around the sidewalks of Toronto – a reasonable method, but one Martin never felt totally comfortable using.
His vision would get worse still. He retired, and friends began urging him to consider a guide dog. Martin filled out an application for a Canine Vision Dog Guide, and in 2014, he met his match: a black Labrador retriever named Yager, expertly trained to navigate busy city streets, and whose personality Dog Guides’ trainers felt suited Martin’s own. “The difference has been astounding,” says Martin of having Yager in his life. “It’s hard to describe, but he’s changed my life! I’m more confident, safer, and I’m doing things I didn’t do before.”
Canine Vision Dog Guides learn common routes with their handlers to help them safely navigate traffic, obstacles, curbs, stairs, and anything else in their path. Martin and Yager have a number of destinations they travel to together, including the Toronto Botanical Gardens, a much-loved spot.
“Friends say I’m the happiest I’ve been in ten years,” says Martin.
Canine Vision Dog Guides like Yager are trained to help their handlers navigate daily routes and provide them a safe means of moving about freely in their community and beyond. If you or someone you know could benefit from a Canine Vision Dog Guide, please
Jason was born with cerebral palsy. He’s visually impaired, uses a wheelchair, and has difficulty with speech, making it challenging for him to articulate his needs to others. He’s also living his life to the fullest.
Four years ago, 15-year-old Jason was matched with a Service Dog Guide named Heart. “She’s his constant companion,” says Jason’s mom, Ginette, of the black Labrador retriever, trained to make life easier for Jason. “She’s allowed him to be much more independent. During the week, Heart goes to school with him, and on the weekends, she comes with us shopping and to restaurants.”
Service Dog Guides truly live up to their name, providing their handlers with increased mobility and independence by performing tasks such as opening and closing doors, retrieving dropped items, and helping their handler remove clothing. They also bark for help in the event their handler needs it, something which is particularly important for this family, whose members would otherwise need to watch over Jason constantly.
Having a Dog Guide makes the world that much more accessible for Jason, and also helps break down barriers to social inclusion. “Everyone in town seems to know Heart now, and they’re delighted when they see the two of them out and about,” says Ginette.
If you or someone you know could benefit from a Service Dog Guide, please
When Hilary was a child, friends and peers figured she was just a daydreamer. She would stare off into space, and wouldn’t have any recollection of having “drifted off” after she came out of it. But her mother – a neuroscience nurse – knew something was wrong.
At age 14, Hilary was diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. The “daydreaming” she’d been doing was actually instances of absence seizures, which lack the quick, violent muscle spasms many associate with a seizure. Her seizures would increase in frequency and severity as she approached college age, and would prevent her from enjoying her teenage years, a time that was marked by stress, social isolation, and generally not feeling safe, even in her own home.
But last year, Hilary embarked on a new chapter when Yuba, a beautiful black Labrador retriever with some very special abilities, joined her life. Yuba is a trained Seizure Response Dog Guide, and reacts to the onset of a seizure. When a seizure occurs, Yuba barks with a steady determination until help arrives, while remaining at Hilary’s side. When she comes out of a seizure, Yuba provides comfort until Hilary has fully recovered from the incident. Seizure Response Dog Guides can also be trained to activate a medical alert system when a seizure occurs in their handler’s home.
With Yuba as her companion, Hilary is thrilled to be venturing downtown on her own – something she hasn’t been able to do. She can recall being a senior in high school, and needing her younger brother to walk with her to and from school to keep an eye on her, should she need help. No longer housebound, she has a new sense of independence, confidence, and safety both inside her home and outside.
If you or someone you know could benefit from a Seizure Response Dog Guide, please
The school year’s started, and there’s a new face in Noah’s grade six classroom: it’s Argo, a calm, sturdy black Labrador retriever, specially trained to make life easier for Noah, who has autism spectrum disorder.
It’s been four years since Noah’s family introduced him to Argo, who was provided free of charge to the family through Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, and a lot has changed since then. “Argo is a part of us,” says Noah’s mother Ali, who spent 10 days in Oakville, Ont., learning how to work with Argo, and about the many benefits he could bring to their family. “He’s an integral part of how we keep Noah safe.” Safety is a primary concern for many families with a child on the autism spectrum. “Noah had no sense of danger at all, not even around fast-moving traffic,” Ali explains. A tether connects Noah physically to Argo’s harness, and if Noah attempts to bolt, the big canine lies down, firmly anchoring Noah in a safe place. But their bond is so much more than just a physical tether. “Noah takes the handle [of Argo’s harness] in his hand, and it’s like hitting a reset button. His anxiety levels go down, he’s calm, and he rarely tries to bolt anymore.”
Integrating Argo into the school system has been a wonderful next step, and a smooth transition for everyone. He was the first service dog in the school board’s region, making the team trailblazers. Noah’s teachers report that the Autism Assistance Dog Guide fits right in. Having Argo there helps Noah focus, and breaks down social barriers many children with autism experience.
Everyone knows and loves Argo, but understands, too, that when Argo’s harness is on, he’s got an important job to do assisting Noah. When the harness is off, Argo enjoys playing and romping around like any other active Labrador.
“Applying for an Autism Assistance Dog Guide was one of the best things we’ve done for Noah,” says Ali. “I wouldn’t change anything about the experience we’ve had.” She pauses, then adds: “Okay, I’d change one thing if I could: I’d want Argo to be able to live forever.”
If you or someone you know could benefit from a Autism Assistance Dog Guide, please
Nancy describes living with type 1 diabetes with hypoglycemic unawareness as “very complicated.” Normally, a person with diabetes will exhibit warning symptoms when blood sugar levels decrease – the usual markers include sweating, shaking or drowsiness. But with hypoglycemic unawareness, those symptoms are absent, meaning Nancy is at risk of the potentially life-threatening effects of her illness, and must constantly monitor her glucose levels.
“A couple of times, I’ve had to go to emergency in an ambulance,” says the Quebec resident, whose young daughter was tasked the first time with making the life-saving phone call. “I thought to myself, this is too much responsibility for my daughter to take on.”
Through a television news broadcast, Nancy learned that dogs were being trained to alert to diabetic “lows,” and she began the application process to receive a Dog Guide through the Lions Foundation. Earlier this year, she was matched with Lolly, a yellow Labrador retriever trained to detect diabetic lows through scent. When a low is detected, Lolly fetches a bag containing an insulin kit and a bottle of juice – the vital items needed for Nancy to test her glucose levels, and get them back under control. Lolly will also bark, alerting anyone in the home, or, if out in public, anyone in the vicinity, to Nancy’s distress before it’s too late.
“Having Lolly has been a break for the entire family,” Nancy says. “We’re all less nervous, so my quality of life is much better.”
If you or someone you know could benefit from an Diabetic Alert Dog Guide, please
Most people are able to smell a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee, but the average dog can detect that same amount in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. And then there’s Nettle. One of the very first diabetic alert dogs trained in Canada, her sensitive nose has saved Brooke and Jade from the potentially life-threatening effects of Type 1 diabetes almost a dozen times in the past year and a half.
The 12-year-old twins are both hypoglycemic-unaware, which means the usual markers of low blood sugar – drowsiness, sweating, and shaking, for example – are absent. From the day the girls were diagnosed at the age of three, parents Terry and Beata slept in two-hour shifts in order to monitor their daughters’ blood sugar levels throughout the night.
Nettle changed all that. She has been trained to sniff out subtle variations in the twins’ breath that indicate a drop in blood sugar. When one of the girls experiences a “low,” Nettle paws at her to wake her up. If unsuccessful, she heads immediately for Terry and alerts him to the problem. Since welcoming Nettle into their home, Terry and Beata have finally been able to sleep through the night, secure in the knowledge that their girls are in good hands.
In May 2015, Nettle became the first Dog Guide to win the Service Dog of the Year award. She was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame at a ceremony attended by her proud family. “She has given us peace of mind, and has really made us a believer in this program,” says Terry. “Nettle means everything to us. We’d sell our house before we’d let her go.”
Congratulations to all the inductees! Everyone at Lions Foundation is incredibly proud of Nettle, her trainers, and the family she is now a part of.