If you enjoy walking, meeting new people, and dogs, or just want to make a difference, the annual Lions Foundation of Canada’s Purina Walk for Dog Guides is a great event to consider participating in or contributing to this Saturday morning in Newcastle. And since the Newcastle Fall Festival will be going on at the same time, you can double your fun.
The Walk for Dog Guides is organized by the Newcastle Lions, and aims to raise funds to support the training of the Foundation’s various Canine Vision Dog Guides, Hearing Ear Dog Guides, Special Skill Dogs, Seizure Response Dogs, and the new Autism Companion Dogs, which are provided to help qualified Canadians with physical and medical disabilities live independently and actively in the community.
According to Melissa Eckersley, Manager, Communications at the Lions Foundation of Canada, 100% of the proceeds of the walks go directly toward providing Dog Guides free of charge to Canadians with disabilities. “Each Dog Guide costs approximately $20,000 to raise and train yet the Foundation does not receive any government funding,” she notes.
This is the 25th year that the Lions Foundation has held the walks, which are organized locally by communities across the country. This year will mark the 15th walk hosted by the Newcastle Lions.
Newcastle resident and Lions Club member Jean Graham chairs the event, and she says there is a short walk (2 km) and a long walk (10 km) to accommodate all kinds of walkers. “My husband, Terry, and I could see a great way to raise money and have fun,” she says of how the Newcastle walks started. “Some people want to participate but don’t have time for the long walk. Health and age can also dictate which route they take. Some have little dogs and old dogs and they take the short walk.”
Graham must be doing something right. Raising $29,816.64, Newcastle came in fourth in the Lions’ top ten walks in the country last year, outdone only by Lethbridge, AB, Oakville, ON and Toronto (West), ON. In fact, the Newcastle walk has been in the top ten for the last 12 years, according to Graham. “But one person cannot make this happen,” she says. “Our whole club works very hard on this event. We try to make sure our walkers enjoy themselves, and I guess that’s why they keep coming back.”
She estimates that 115 people registered for last year’s walk, noting that one person may register and then bring along a friend or a few family members. Most people walk with their dogs, but a dog is not necessary to participate, says Graham.
“Most walk their dogs, but I say you can walk anything you like as long as you keep it under control and clean up after it. We have had some surprises over the years but, we are there to raise money and have fun,” she says.
Walkers come from Newcastle, Bowmanville, Oshawa, Whitby, Cobourg, Port Hope, Orono and Millbrook, according to Graham. And one family makes the annual trip from Scarborough. “One of the foster puppies didn’t make the [dog guide training] program and was adopted by a family in Scarborough. They have been attending every year and bringing Blizzard with them for nine years,” she says.
Graham notes that the Newcastle Fall Festival also takes place on Saturday, which gives people even more reason to come out and enjoy themselves. And not only are the proceeds of the bar at Saturday evening’s ABBAMANIA going to the Walk for Dog Guides, but also the money raised by the Running Maniacs on Saturday morning. “The Running Maniacs host a race in Newcastle the same morning and donate their profits to the walk,” says Graham. “They donated $3,000 to our walk last year, so I would like to say a special thank-you to their organizers.”
She is hoping for another successful year, but says that the weather and the economy can affect the walk. “Last year was a great year,” she notes. “But times are a little tighter this year. Only a few people register in advance. I never know how many will come out – it all depends on the weather. If on Wednesday they say the weather will be nice on Saturday, people will start to make plans and collect pledges. Then there are the regulars that come every year rain or shine.”
This year at the walk, the Grahams will be bringing Argo, the dog guide puppy they are fostering. Argo is the 16th puppy the couple has fostered since they first heard about the Lions Club program almost 20 years ago. “I enjoy fostering,” says Jean Graham. “This way I can play with the puppies and make a difference.”
The Grahams have been active in the Lions Club for quite some time now. Jean is an 11-year Lions Club member, and her husband Terry, who served for three years as the International Director for Lions Club International, is an 18-year member. Just last week, the couple travelled to Memphis, Tennessee to attend the USA/Canada Lions Leadership Forum.
Because they took a plane to Memphis, it was one trip where Argo had to remain at home. But Graham says she and Argo are looking forward to participating in the Walk for Guide Dogs, which will be a good experience for the puppy. “It’s a great way to socialize your dog and raise a little money,” she says. “Bring your best friend and help raise money ‘For Some One That Needs One.’”
Registration opens at 8 a.m., and the walk starts at 9 a.m., this Saturday, October 3 at the Newcastle Town Hall. To register in advance, to make a donation online, or to learn more about the Foster Puppy Program, go to www.dogguides.com. You may also give a gift by phone at 1-800-768-3030 or by mail to Lions Foundation of Canada’s Purina Walk for Dog Guides, PO Box 907, Oakville, ON L6J 5E8. Please make cheques payable to Lions Foundation of Canada.