A friend in my neighborhood is currently fostering the most adorable yellow lab puppy for the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. The whole process from start to finish fascinates me and I would like to share what I have learned.
My friend Matthuschka is married with three sons’ ages sixteen, fourteen and eleven. Around four years ago she and I listened to a woman speak to a local ladies group about her experiences fostering future guide dogs. The talk was incredible and very inspirational for us all. Mattuschaka recently told me the seed was planted for her but the timing would have to wait until her kids were older and they as a family could commit.
A family at her church has fostered eight or nine puppies for this Organization and continued to give the Sheedy family a great role model to aspire to. In November 2010 the Sheedy’s put their name on a list to be a foster family.
The process begins with a lengthy questionnaire a family must fill out which helps to choose potential families. In June 2011 they were interviewed in their home to verify if a terrific fit for the program. Questions regarded the time the family would be home, their neighborhood, and if they had a fenced in garden etc.
The Sheedys felt that the time was right and that their house was big enough for a puppy. She works part-time but can also work from home, and her kids would be home at lunch to walk the dog as they are older.
They were told puppies would be available at the end of August or early September but decided to wait for the next litter as after the summer September often presents a very hectic month for any family. They were told a September litter would have puppies going out to families in October. This was perfect timing!
In this litter there were nine puppies! They were asked if they wanted a yellow or black lab as both colours were in the litter. An option on the sex was available too. Matthuschka had a houseful of testosterone and did not know what to do! After speaking to the organization was told that the males are often easier to train. This helped with her decision and she chose a yellow male. They are named when they come to a family and this litter had all had “R” names. Their little bundle of joy was named Rupert and they got him on Oct.22nd 2011.
Food and vet bills are covered and you can purchase a crate. They chose to buy a second-hand one online that fit in their house and had the type of door openings on it etc. that they really wanted. Toys are not given but the Sheedys have enjoyed buying for Rupert!
They were given a training manual prior to his arrival to be prepared. You are given lots of help either by email or phone once you have your foster puppy. Once a month the new family reunites and goes face to face with the other litter mates, a pet care class is provided and vaccinations for the first few months.
When I saw Rupert I was in love – any young puppy goes right to my heart. His future ahead makes him even more endearing! Throw in the working Guide Dog jacket and I think he has quite a fan club! I mentioned I could never go through with the fostering process and seeing the puppy move on and she replied this was a statement the majority of people say to her. I asked how she could sum it up to me. In typical frankness – which I love her for – she answered, “I am fostering, he is not mine; he belongs to the Guide Dogs of Canada.” I felt shivers all over and goose bumps too after hearing this and felt my eyes well up (my family knows I am easily moved and I get teased sometimes). Her answer was bang on and did not surprise me reinforcing what a gift she was giving of her family but mostly of herself as his primary caregiver/trainer. She has worked in the Health Care field for years at a hospital as a nurse assisting new mothers deliver babies or for help afterwards with breast-feeding. She is presently a Co-Ordinator at a large hospital in downtown Toronto. It is in her blood so to speak to make a difference in people’s lives.
I asked about any negatives or challenges with Rupert. She said it was hard getting used to a puppy in their house as he chewed some curtains and once shredded his dog cushion in his crate. She, like any family, finds the kids need prompting at times to assist with Rupert but her sons have been very hands on, especially the younger two.
Now that he is a few months older she works one on one with a trainer once a month. Rupert had his first experience at Fairview Mall in the New Year. Goals are set, one being the ability to go in an elevator and on escalators up and down. This did not go well the first time and some patience was needed. She discovered it was better to try on a flat, moving ramp (like at the airport!) at a nearby large grocery store. Treats were thrown on and going up was better than going down. Lots of practice was key! Her husband mentioned there was an escalator in his office building that gets turned off at a certain time each day. People go on and use it as a staircase. This was the magic needed to lure him into accepting the escalator in the future.
She takes Rupert to work with her and when asked by me on the positives regarding the experience fostering him she said he is a connector and she has met so many new people.
He will leave their family around mid-August or this September to go to Oakville and will be in the program there full time. She fully understands the ending. He will be assigned to one of their following Guide Dog Types: Canine Vision, Hearing Ear, Special Skills, Seizure Response or an Autism Assistance Guide Dog. Training there could be six to eight months, as Special Skills dogs may need further training.
The dogs are then matched to a person and the new “pair” live three weeks on site with a trainer. The Graduation follows and the fostering family can attend.
Please check out the link to Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides at www.dogguides.com. Their toll-free number is 1-800-768-3030. They are located in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.
There are many ways you can help! The approximate cost of training a Guide Dog from start to finish is $20,000! They have a list of items needed online required for the programs. You can donate with a memorial gift to plant a tree in the forest there used at the Centre by dogs in training. I have given it as a tribute to friends who have experienced the loss of a loved family dog.
You can “adopt” a puppy by offsetting the vet expenses for a Guide Dog’s first year. You can volunteer your time at the centre too if you would like a unique experience in Oakville. They have Open Houses where you can attend and find out more information about their many programs.
Rupert recently came to the women’s group in my neighborhood with Matthuschka wearing his official jacket. He melted many hearts including my own. Seeing this story come full circle with a neighboring family making a difference in such a positive way is a truly remarkable gift!