Sighted people cannot imagine what it is like not to see. My sister met with a car accident many years ago leaving her with only one eye. Tragically, over the last few years she lost sight in this eye and is now completely blind. Nevertheless, she manages very well and still does chores around the house as well as gardening, all by touch. She has to rely on her memory to keep track of how her clothes are arranged in her wardrobe, what she needs to do (where the rest of us make lists) and where everything is in the fridge or in the kitchen cupboards. We often forget that she can’t see, so we do stupid things like walking out of a room without telling her so she continues talking not realising that we are no longer there or we carelessly move things on a shelf and she no longer knows where they are. Life for her would be even more difficult without her ‘seeing eye dog’. The dog accompanies her on walks, helping her to avoid obstacles, cross the road, and essentially ensures that she can get around. The working life of a Guide Dog is about 10 years. She was on her second dog Pixie, when ironically, the dog developed cataracts and had to be retired. Another match had to be found and she went to the Canine Vision facility in Oakville for a two week stay to get matched with a suitable dog. She now has a beautiful, lively and obedient Golden Retriever called Dudley.
She has kept Pixie as a pet but understandably she is going through a period of confusion at not having to work. Guide Dogs knows that its time to work when they are called to heel and their harness is put on. It is fascinating to see how their behaviour and demeanour changes when this happens. Once the harness is on, they stop any playful behaviour and wait for instructions. Its like a soldier putting on a uniform and going on duty. The old dog Pixie comes to heel when my sister calls and can’t understand why she is not chosen to continue and why her role has been taken over by Dudley. Its really quite sad to watch. Dudley on the other hand hasn’t quite learned the ropes and needs some concentrated training in order to do what he is expected to do.
Training Guide Dogs is an expensive and time-consuming process. The Canine Vision Facility is funded by the Lion’s Club. In the 1980s, the Lion’s Clubs across Canada decided to start a project to help Canadians with vision impairment and established Canine Vision Canada in 1989. They have two centres in Ontario and provide Guide dogs at no cost to people in need across Canada. As well, they train Guide dogs for people with special needs such as those who are deaf, those with epilepsy, or autism, and soon for people with diabetes. In a shopping mall last week, we saw two young teenagers with autism assistance dogs. The dogs help to reduce their fear of public spaces and decrease their anxiety. For those who are deaf, the dogs are trained to alert them to the sound of a doorbell or phone ringing and so on. It’s absolutely amazing how a dog can be so important to someone’s life and we are very grateful to the Lion’s club that their funding enables people like my sister to have as normal a life as possible.