As the pandemic further restricted mobility, service dogs “changed lives” for those in need


After the pandemic caused serious delays in training service dogs, creating a backlog and leaving her without a dog in the past year, Sue Woodhouse returned to normal life under the leadership of her new guide dog .

“I think it makes [the] The epidemic is really big. Not only because you can’t go to certain places, but also because I am hesitant and not confident about whether to go,” said Woodhouse, who is visually impaired.

Woodhouse lives in Brightsgrove, Ontario, east of Sarnia. She said that she did not avoid certain activities without a guide dog, but that she prefers to turn to her husband or friend.

The lack of a guide dog during the pandemic deprived Woodhouse of some of the freedom that Woodhouse was used to when raising her previous dog, the Fisher, a black flat-bottomed terrier. Fisher came to Woodhouse when he was two years old, and they worked together for seven years before he retired, just when the pandemic began.

Watch | Guide dogs provide a sense of freedom and confidence:

Sue Woodhouse of Sarnia explained the influence of having a guide dog next to her. 0:38

Welcome to Wembley

On June 15th, she received a new dog named Wembley and is now looking to the future.

“It’s just a completely different outlook on life. When I have Wembley by my side, I feel more confident,” Woodhouse said of her new companion, a three-year-old black Labrador retriever.

“This is really opening the door and going out, knowing that someone will take me safely to where I need to go,” she said.

“This will prevent me from encountering obstacles or obstacles, not only physical obstacles, but also emotional obstacles.”

Wembley is a three-year-old black Labrador retriever. She received training in the Canine Vision Program at the Canadian Dog Guide Lions Foundation in Oakville, Ontario. (Laura Clemson/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Fisher and Wembley are both from the Canadian Lions Dog Guide Foundation in Oakville, Ontario.

The organization provides assistance dogs for seven different projects. It also raises dogs and follows up with customers and dogs throughout the journey to ensure that dogs provide the support they need.

Although the clients of the program do not pay for this service, the foundation needs to spend $35,000 to breed and train each dog.

Pandemic stop plan

Before the pandemic, the Lions Foundation will train an average of 150 to 200 dogs for all seven programs, including canine vision, hearing, autism assistance, services for people with physical or medical disabilities, epilepsy response, diabetes alert And facilities support professional organizations to assist individuals who have suffered trauma.

The dog usually spends 12-18 months in a foster home, learning basic obedience and social skills, and then is recalled to the facility for more specific training for 4 to 6 months.

Beverly Crandell, chief executive of the Lions Foundation of the Canadian Kennel Association, said that due to the pandemic, they have revised their plans to include virtual learning. (Laura Clemson/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

The training ground stopped in March 2020 and did not restart until August, causing a backlog of dogs waiting to start training at the facility. At the height of the pandemic, Beverly Crandell, the chief executive of the foundation, stated that they had more than 440 dogs in foster care.

For example, due to the pandemic, Wembley spent nine and a half months in foster care.

“This means that we must also close our applications because we are not sure what the impact is,” Crandall said. To ensure that there is no larger backlog, the applications of these programs are still closed, and people who are currently waiting for dogs are receiving them.

As the pandemic spread, Crandall said they learned to adjust and modify—including the introduction of virtual courses.

Before the pandemic, customers will spend three weeks in the Oakville facility to learn about their new dog and receive training. Instead, they conduct online lessons at home before accepting the dog.

Since not all training for dogs and dog handlers can be done virtually, some training is done in person and the class size is small. There are also places where dogs are placed at homes. The dogs are sent to customers’ homes for follow-up visits by trainers using health and safety protocols.

“We need to train these dogs”

Although she said that the client missed the full-day course and the friendship that remained in the facility, Alissa Silvester, an apprentice trainer for the Canine Vision Program, said that the current system also has its benefits.

Alissa Silvester is an apprentice trainer for the Lions Foundation Canine Vision Program. (Laura Clemson/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

“In some ways, we learned a lot from it,” she said, noting that dogs and customers need to learn to work in their own environment and routes.

Locking restrictions mean that trainers cannot bring service dogs into restaurants, shopping malls, or theaters—and those open environments are not as busy as usual.

Sylvester said: “We need to train these dogs, and work with their customers, trainers, and help them as much as possible, but we still need to produce a good dog.”

Woodhouse knew that Wembley might not have many opportunities to go to public places because the lockdown restrictions meant that there was no indoor dining. Woodhouse was not sure about Wembley’s performance during their first meal.

But she told CBC News that Wembley “done very well.”

Woodhouse and Wembley visited a park near her home in Brightsgrove. Due to the pandemic, foster care at Wembley took about nine months longer than usual. (Laura Clemson/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

The pandemic highlights the gap in support

Jonathan Lai, executive director of the Canadian Alliance for Autism Spectrum Disorders, said the pandemic helps illustrate the differences between Canadians with disabilities.

“It really takes a raging epidemic to highlight the huge gap in the support we provide for the disabled in Canada.”

He said that a lot of support is generally not set up to respond to change, nor is it designed to innovate. But the pandemic requires both, which creates waiting time for certain services.

“Many Canadians with disabilities rely on these services as part of the social contract we have as a country. Therefore, when services are restricted or cancelled, it affects daily life.”

The Lions Foundation told CBC News that not all changes due to the pandemic are negative. It is seeking to combine virtual and face-to-face courses.

Suwoodhouse (left) poses with her daughter, husband and service dog Fisher during a trip to Scotland. (Submitted by Sue Woodhouse)

Dogs give people confidence

For people like Woodhouse, guide dog services are of great significance.

“The dog changed lives,” she said. “Know that as the pandemic opens things up, I can resume what I usually do in life, but with confidence.”

She took her former dog Fisher on a trip-including one to Scotland-and she hopes to do the same at Wembley.

“I thought of having more trips and Wembley with me this time instead of Fisher, and I knew we would be able to do great things together where we went.”



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