Border closures and travel restrictions are leaving many Canadians without the guide dog partners they need to safely navigate their world. CNIB Guide Dogs is urgently expanding its program to fund 150 new guide dogs, but it takes two years to fully train these future guide dogs. While people are waiting to be matched with their next guide dog, specialists from CNIB Guide Dogs and Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada (VLRC) launched a new program at CNIB Lake Joe focused on improving orientation and mobility skills for existing and new guide dog handlers.
Myra Rodrigues was one of the 12 people who participated in this five-day pilot program at CNIB Lake Joe which involved a unique collaboration across VLRC, DBCS and CNIB Guide Dogs.
“I had my guide dog for 10 years,” she explains. “Shortly after my dog passed away, I had knee surgery, and then COVID-19 happened. I hadn’t done white cane training for a long time and was looking forward to learning and reviewing my white cane skills.”
Myra and fellow participants were shuttled into nearby Parry Sound for two full days to work one-on-one with their respective VLRC Orientation & Mobility Specialists. While there, they focused on refining their basic white cane skills, residential and commercial street crossing skills, traffic analysis, and more. Another full day was spent with CNIB Guide Dog staff working on actual in-harness dog skills, basic obedience and general guide dog information.
“We could walk with different dogs, and the staff could assess what each of us needed,” says Myra. “We were a mixed group; people who had had guide dogs for years, people who had never had a dog before (even as a pet), and everything in between. At night we were able to have a dog in our room if we wanted…what a treat! This program covered all areas of preparation. What I really liked was that the staff were able to get to know me really well and assess exactly what I needed.”
Though participants had a 9-5 workday for three solid days, they were able to enjoy the fully accessible amenities at CNIB Lake Joe.
“You couldn’t have had a better location for this type of program,” says Myra. “You could go for a swim early in the morning and tour around the facility. In the evenings, we had catamaran rides and got to know each other around the campfire. Lake Joe is a perfect setting for this.”
With the support of generous donors who supported this activity, CNIB Guide Dogs and VLRC are hoping to continue to offer this program at CNIB Lake Joe. For more information, please contact Tracy Garbutt, Program Lead, Client and Stakeholder Relations CNIB Guide Dogs at Tracy.Garbutt@cnib.ca or call 204-894-6926.