Nfld. & Labrador

Meet Ivy and Maple, graduating with top barks from CNIB's guide-dog school

It's a big day for Rhea Stark and Kelly Picco: their beloved dogs have completed training with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the first ones in Newfoundland and Labrador to do so.

Life-changing canine companions live and work with Rhea Stark and Kelly Picco

Rhea Stark and CNIB-trained Ivy met only this month but are already inseparable. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

It's a big day for Rhea Stark and Kelly Picco: their beloved golden retrievers have graduated from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's training program, the first dogs in Newfoundland and Labrador to do so.

One-year-old Ivy is now officially what is known as a "buddy dog" — not quite a full-fledged guide dog but well trained to prepare Stark for a guide dog later.

Rhea, 9, met Ivy for the first time only this month but they bonded right away.

"She came over to me a lot and she wanted me to pet her. Now we always play together and she helps me not get bored," said Rhea. "She also helps me with stairs and everything."

As a complication of a condition called Noonan syndrome, Rhea's vision has decreased significantly and may deteriorate further.

The CNIB says buddy dogs are partnered with children living with sight loss, giving them the opportunity to care for a dog and make it easier to transition to a guide dog partnership later.

Guide Dog Maple

Two-year-old Maple is a full-fledged guide dog who has worked with Picco since March.

Picco began to lose her sight when she was seven years old, growing up on the Burin Peninsula. In 2016, she graduated from MUN with a degree in sociology. A year later she became the program lead for volunteer and community Services with the CNIB foundation in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I don't go anywhere without Maple by my side but last night Maple went to the spa and I thought, 'It's so different without Maple. It's lonely,'" said Picco.

"I'm so used to having her there and the independence I've gained since getting Maple is remarkable."

Kelly Picco says the independence she's gained since being paired with CNIB-trained guide dog Maple is remarkable. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Maple and Ivy are irresistible but they are working animals and shouldn't be distracted. Anyone who wants to pet them should ask the dog's partners first.

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Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.