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Guide dogs help northerners live life to the fullest

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Dogs are more than just pets. They can be trained for a variety of jobs, including helping people with health issues and disabilities.

The demand for guide dogs is growing in Canada, according to the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.

Meet Wrigley, an extraordinary Labrador Retriever trained to help Julie Lemieux, who has hearing issues.

If Lemieux misses an alarm, the one-year-old pup gives her a friendly tap, among other things she can help with. Wrigley has been helping Lemieux since October.

“My favorite part is the morning when she wakes me up,” said Lemieux, who has been living in a Timmins assisted living facility for nine years.

“She pushes her nose on my hand and she makes sure that I’m awake.”

This is Lemieux’s second guide dog. Her first was a service dog named Juliet, who passed away in 2018.

“She would fetch items, she would push the buttons, she would bark for help,” Lemieux said.

When Lemieux developed severe hearing issues, Wrigley was there to help.

“During the night, I don’t hear anything. I take off my hearing aid,” Lemieux said.

“If the fire alarm goes off, I don’t hear. She’ll come and put her paw on the bed, wake me up, and then I know something’s going on.”

Wrigley is provided by the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.

The organization has more than 800 active dogs across the country, specially trained in seven different aid programs, from vision to hearing to diabetes.

Wrigley is an extraordinary Labrador Retriever who has been trained to help Julie Lemieux, who has hearing issues. (Photo from video)

And they’re provided to clients for free.

“Through a lot of donations,” said the foundation’s communications director, Maria Galindo.

“And that’s why the Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides is so key and so vital for us. Each dog costs $35,000, and we do an average of about 100 to 150 a year.”

Guide dogs start training very early, Galindo said, starting with exposure to people and then to a variety of situations, before undergoing specialized training.

Specific set of skills

Their human companions need training, as well, she said.

“They have been trained to do very specific skills and commands, and the person needs to learn how to activate those commands in order to keep themselves safe.”

Galindo said guide dogs make a huge impact on people.

“They’re life-changers and they’re superheroes because the things they do, it unleashes so much potential to that person.”

Lemieux agrees, saying Wrigley and Juliet have enriched her life – but she sees it as a two-way relationship.

“She takes care of me and I take care of her. So, we’ve become a team,” Lemieux said.

The foundation has around 14 active dog guides in northern Ontario, according to Galindo.

It’s launching a fundraising campaign later this month, holding dozens of walks across the country – including several in the northeast – to raise money for breeding, training and matching these amazing dogs with clients.

Galindo said the goal is to raise around $1.6 million to provide these services to a growing number of clients. 

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