NEWCASTLE – At four months of age, Farley the puppy may not take the long route on the Newcastle Walk for Dog Guides this Saturday. But hopes are that one day he will go far, training at a special facility in Oakville and, upon graduation, using his new skills to make someone’s life a little easier.
Farley – part Yellow Labrador, part Golden Retriever — is enrolled in the Lions Foundation of Canada’s Foster Puppy Program, preparing for future training in the Dog Guide Program. He is being fostered by Jean Graham, organizer of the Newcastle walk, and her husband Terry, both of whom are Lions members. Farley is the Grahams’ 17th foster puppy.
“I guess we must love puppies,” says Jean. “We picked him up [when] he was only six weeks old. He will stay with us until he is 12-14 months old.”
Farley wears a special green jacket that indicates he is a “Future Dog Guide” when he heads out to the malls and stores with Jean and Terry. “So far training has been a lot of fun,” says Jean.
The Grahams’ last foster puppy, Argo, returned to school in Oakville at the end of this past June, reports Jean.
“Argo is in training to help a child with autism. This is a new program for the Lions Foundation of Canada. The first class graduated in February and already there is a waiting list,” she says. “Hopefully these walks will shorten the list. What a difference it makes to these children and their families.”
Making a difference is what motivates volunteers like the Grahams, and like Newcastle resident Murray Paterson. As the longest serving member of the Newcastle Lions Club, Paterson has been helping with the walk every year since it first started 16 years ago.
“It’s a marvel to see these dogs get trained,” he says. “It’s quite an operation. It takes a lot of money to train them. So hopefully we’ll have a successful event.”
The dogs are trained as Canine Vision dog guides (for people who are blind or visually impaired), Hearing Ear dog guides (for people who are deaf or hard of hearing), Special Skills dog guides (for people with a medical or physical disability), Seizure Response dog guides (for people with epilepsy), and Autism Assistance dog guides (for children with autism).
As with most endeavours of higher learning, the specialized training of a dog guide is expensive: approximately $20, 000 per dog. It starts when the dog is approximately a year old, at which time it leaves its foster home. The dog is then assessed and assigned to one of three programs (Vision, Hearing, or Special Skills) for 6-8 months of training. This is followed by a final stage of training, learning the specific needs of the individual client, when the dog and its new human partner work together at the Oakville school for up to 26 days.
The Newcastle walk raises money to cover the cost of training the dog guides — which are offered at no charge to the client — and, Jean says, 100 percent of the pledges go to the Dog Guides program.
“In the fifteen years we have hosted the walks, Newcastle has raised over $300,000,” says Jean. “We raised approximately $23,000 last year. I think we were fifth [in fundraising, of all the walks held]… across Canada. Not bad for the small town of Newcastle.”
Last year’s walk — with approximately 100 dogs, some with more than one walker – was typical of the steady participation this town sees, says Jean, noting that good weather can make all the difference. With both a short walk (4 km) and a long walk (10 km), there is a route to accommodate people of all ages and abilities, she says, and everyone is encouraged to come out. Leashed dogs are welcome guests, but those without a dog can still participate, she states.
The Durham chapter of the Running Maniacs also supports the event by holding 5 and 10 km runs that same day to raise money for the Walk for Dog Guides.
“The Maniacs donated $3,000 to the walk last year,” says Jean. “I think they had over 250 runners participating.”
The walk and the run are part of the Newcastle Fall Festival which starts Friday evening and continues Saturday.
“We have a great time. It’s a fun day,” notes Paterson. “There are all kinds of things going on all day long. There’s a midway, a pie auction, pumpkin painting, vendors inside and out, bingo, Jungle Cat World, an antique car show and antique tractors. There’s a battle of the bands and a firefighters demonstration. And at night, there’s a Dinner and Elvis impersonator for $35.”
“We would encourage everyone to come out and ‘walk your best friend for someone that needs one.’ If you cannot walk, please support someone who is walking. If you don’t know anyone who is walking, Farley would love to have your support,” says Jean.
The walk begins at the Newcastle Community Hall at 9:00 am, registration at 8 am. To register or donate online, go to www.walkfordogguides.com click on “Find A Walk,” and then, from the drop-down menu, select “Ontario” and then “Newcastle”.