North

Former Yukoner reflects on guide dog experience as new batch of dogs finish training

Canada's largest group which helps people with visual impairment, the CNIB, is celebrating the graduation of 29 dogs from a training program. The guide dogs will be placed across Canada to help people get around.

Having a guide dog is 'a very deep relationship' says Louise Michaud who has navigated Yukon winters

A craguation celebrates this week will see 29 new dogs serve as guides, emotional support animals and attend public events. The CNIB is now fundraising in Canada and trying to ramp up its training of service dogs as border closures have prevented travel and importation of service dogs from the US. (CNIB)

A former Yukoner says she is thankful for her guide dog, which allowed her to navigate Whitehorse winters. 

Louise Michaud spoke about her experience this week as new graduate dogs are going into service across Canada.

Last summer, Michaud travelled from Yukon to Ottawa and trained for two weeks with Jess, a female black lab. 

Since then, "she and I have been bombing around Whitehorse all winter. I think we're a perfect match," she said. 

Michaud recently moved to Regina after living 11 years in Yukon. She said accessibility wasn't her reason for moving.

Michaud said navigating Whitehorse with a guide dog was quite feasible. In fact, she said the city is well-adapted to people who are visually impaired. 

"On the whole it's been a welcoming and positive experience," she said of living in Whitehorse.

"Sidewalk clearing is a little more optional than I'd like to see it but audible signal traffic lights are useful as well as the bus service. As a visually-impaired person, I can't say I encountered anything that could not be overcome." 

Michaud spoke at an online graduation ceremony on Wednesday as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)  marked the graduation of 29 dogs from a training program, which lasts two years. 

The dogs, having completed their time with trainers and hosts, will next be paired with people who are visually impaired across Canada. 

Graduating class adds to Canada's supply of guide dogs

This year's graduating class are all Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers or a mix of both breeds. 

Victoria Nolan, CNIB Guide Dogs' head of stakeholder relations and community engagement says these breeds are a good choice for guiding in Canada.

Last summer Louise Michaud went to Ottawa and trained for two weeks with a new service dog. "She and I have been bombing around Whitehorse all winter, I think we're a perfect match," she said. (CNIB )

"They love to work. Also these two breeds have a double layer coat which means they can be sent anywhere in Canada and will shed according to the climate," she said.

This year's graduation brings CNIB's total to 57 dogs trained since 2017 when it started its program in Canada. 

Of this year's class, only 20 dogs will work as service dogs which is the most difficult role.

The nine others will work in others roles such as being assigned to children for emotional support or take part in other public events as "ambassadors" for the program.

The CNIB is now fundraising in Canada, seeking volunteers and trying to ramp up its training of service dogs as border closures have prevented travel and importation of service dogs from the U.S.

Michaud said she is glad recent efforts will mean more dogs are paired with people like her. 

"She gives me independence," she said of her dog, who helped her through the recent move. "I have learned to navigate a new city, I have learned new routes and I do that with confidence because I have the guide dog." 

Guide dogs are trained by host families, and there's no guarantee of success even after two years. Here the Hettiarachchi family in Scarborough, Ontario, poses with Jess before the dog was assigned to Yukon. (CNIB)

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