Gail and her service dog Tyrell were one of our very first canine vision teams we were honoured to light up with Head-Lites. It was with great sadness we had learned of Tyrell's cancer diagnosis in the spring of 2015 and his unfortunate passing shortly thereafter. For seven years Tyrell safely guided a completely blind Gail around the city of Vernon, B.C. A service dog had enabled her to live independantly day to day and just very recently Gail opened her heart up to a new friend.
We had the pleasure of meeting up with Gail at the Lions Foundation Dog Guides training center in Oakville, Ontario. She was matched with a flat coated retriever named Merry and working with trainers to bond with her new service dog. I had asked Gail what it was like first meeting Merry and she shared a story with me. Merry's foster mother was present one day and the dog started jumping with excitement, reason unknown to Gail until the foster mother introduced herself. She had affectionately addressed Gail's new friend as "my Merry". Gail confided that her heart had sank wondering if her new friend would ever be "her Merry" and love her the same way she loved her foster mother. As a foster family, it is an incredibly bitter sweet moment when the dog you've raised in your home from the age of 7 weeks old must leave you for their bigger purpose in life. Volunteer foster families give the most important start in a puppy's path to becoming a service dog. The time spent at the training center together really becomes the key enabler to build up trust between the new handler and dog team.
A calm and placid Merry lay at Gail's feet as we chatted, clear that a special bond had cemented between the two. I then asked Gail when Merry had became "hers". She described sitting quietly in her room and just whispering Merry's name, and within a few paw pads, Merry was right at her side. She shared with me how the beautiful dog knew right away she was blind and had adapted her behaviour to meet Gail's needs. For example, their play time is a version of Marco Polo where Merry would utter a low play growl to let Gail know where she was so they could tug a toy together. If the game of the day was hide and seek, Merry would level the playing field with vocal cues to guide Gail around to her hiding spot. As playful as Merry is - when the working harness came on, it was all cool and calm business with Gail's safety first and foremost.
We wish Gail and all of her other canine vision classmates who graduated this past week all the best as they head off to their respective homes across Canada with their new life companions!
The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides makes it possible for folks like Gail to receive a service dog free of charge all thanks to generous fundraising and donation efforts. It costs on average $25,000 per dog and countless hours of training and volunteer efforts. Here are some great ways you can help!