Eleven Saskatchewan communities will be joining close to 240 communities across Canada in a national walk in support of dog guides.
Merilyn DeFazio, manager for the Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides, said the event was created over 30 years ago by the Lions Foundation of Canada. She said 80 per cent of the walks across Canada are organized by Lions Clubs, including a walk in Spiritwood, on May 7.
“Because we don’t receive any government funding we rely solely on fundraisers and donations to continue to provide dog guides to Canadians in need. So the Pet Valu Walk is essential to our funding,” DeFazio said.
Since the walk began in 1985, over $14 million has been raised with 100 per cent of the proceeds going to support dog guide programs including for people who are blind or visually impaired, people who are deaf or hard of hearing or children aged three to 12 on the autism spectrum.
DeFazio said to raise, train and place a single dog guide with a handler comes at a total cost of $25,000. She said the dog stays for 12 months with a foster family as a “Future Dog Guide puppy.” After that, it comes back to the organization for training in one of the six programs. She said the training can last anywhere from four to six months depending on the program and the dog.
Because of a lack of funding and a high demand for dog guides, they currently have wait lists attached to all of their programs.
“These dogs go on to ultimately change their handlers' lives, in more ways than one. For a lot of them it gives them a sense of independence whereas they might not have been able to live independently before, or might not have felt comfortable to go off to university and live on their own. It gives them the encouragement to do that and continue on in their daily life,” DeFazio said.
DeFazio said in 2017, roughly 180 dog guides will graduate and be matched up with someone on the waiting list. She said they hope to increase the number to 200 graduates next year. Saskatchewan currently has 34 active dog guides in the province with 11 people on a waiting list.
This year’s Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides will take place on May 28, but Spiritwood will be hosting their's early on May 7.
The Spiritwood event will begin at the local Royal Canadian Legion, with sign in at 1:30 p.m. and the walk to begin at 2 p.m. Last year’s nationwide walk raised $1.3 million.
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