FERGUS – Dog Guides improve people’s lives by supporting their independence, safety and well-being.
That’s why Fergus resident Larry Wainwright has worked to raise over $72,000 in pledges for the Maryhill Walk for Dog Guides so far this year.
Dogs can offer guidance for people with vision or hearing loss and provide comfort and companionship to people who’ve experienced trauma.
They can be trained to assist with tasks, such as opening and closing doors, retrieving things such as medicine or a phone, or carrying bags.
They can even detect blood sugar levels and sense seizures before they happen.
It’s “absolutely remarkable that a dog can do anything like that,” Wainwright said with his dog Otis laying beside him.
Otis helps Wainwright, who became legally blind in 1976 and reached “total blindness” in 2016, navigate his surroundings.
Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides
The Walk for Dog Guides, sponsored by Pet Value, raises money for the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides (LFCDG), which breeds and trains dogs and connects them with people in need, free of charge.
Since the LFCDG launched in 1983, the Lions have paired more than 3,000 people with dog guides, and there are currently over a thousand working Lions Dog Guides teams across Canada.
The LFCDG does not receive any government funding, and the majority of its donations come from the Pet Value Walk for Dog Guides.
Dog guides from the Lions Foundation are trained in an accredited assistance dog school in Oakville, and the total cost of preparing one dog through the program is $35,000.
LFCDG communications manager Maria Galindo said the Pet Value Walk for Dog Guides is vital for LFCDG to be able to continue providing the dogs free of charge.
It’s the “only organization in the world” that offers seven different training programs, she said. They include:
- canine vision;
- seizure response;
- autism assistance;
- diabetic alert; and
- facility support.
Wainwright said the Lions Foundation “gets a lot of testimonials” about dog guides, and he has heard “what a difference it’s made in so many lives.”
For example, one Lions dog guide was trained to support 12-year-old twins in Cambridge who are diabetic.
Shortly after joining the family, the dog woke the twins’ parents in the middle of the night, alerting them to a change in their daughter’s blood pressure.
Wainwright said if no one had realized the problem, the girl would have died within the hour.
Another family wrote a letter describing how, after their autistic eight year old was partnered with a Lions dog guide, they were all able to sleep through the night for the first time in his life.
Wainwright said his fundraising is motivated by these stories, and how they touch his heart.
Otis and Larry – ‘a match made in heaven’
Wainwright said Otis is a comfort and companion who has impacted his life “in so many ways.”
Otis hardly leaves Wainwright’s side during an interview with the Advertiser, though he’s off duty, so the grey poodle stretches out on the floor for a nice long nap after the excitement of having a visitor wears off.
Wainwright said when a friend first suggested he apply to be paired with a dog guide he brushed it off, thinking at 76 he was “too old.”
But before long he changed his mind, receiving Otis, his “precious gift,” in 2014.
Soon after the two met, Wainwright remembers Otis laying his head in his lap and the trainer saying “‘I don’t think we have any bonding problems here.’”
Wainwright said he quickly noticed he and Otis had four things in common.
Compared to the other dogs and recipients, Wainwright said, they both were the “oldest, biggest, and greyest,” and had a stubborn streak too – they were “a match made in heaven.”
Pet Value Walk for Dog Guides
The Walk for Dog Guides is an national fundraising event sponsored by Pet Value that involves communities across the country gathering for local walks.
Many of the walks take place on May 28.
Wainwright’s fundraising success is the reason Maryhill is ranked in the top 10 of more than 150 towns and cities.
A dedicated member of the Lion’s Foundation since 1977, Wainwright has been involved with organizing the Walk for Dog Guides since 1985.
This year, he said he will have the honour of being the national ambassador for the walk.
The fundraising campaign raises about $1.3 million annually.
This year, the Maryhill walk is on June 24, starting at Heritage Park Community Centre.
It’s organized by the Lions clubs in Elora, Belwood, Ariss and Maryhill.
“Its a fun day in the community – a family friendly event,” Galindo said, adding, “you don’t need a dog to participate,” though many people bring dogs along.
There are three other dog guide walks taking place in Wellington County this year: in Erin on May 27, Fergus on May 28 and Mount Forest on June 3.
Wainwright’s fundraising success
Wainwright boils his fundraising success down to a desire to help others, and how he was taught by his father as a child.
He describes a personal and professional approach with letters from he and Otis, in-person visits, and thank you cards after the event.
While many limit fundraising to a couple months leading up to the event, Wainwright said the effort is year-round for him and his wife, Hilda.
“You can’t do a year of work in eight weeks,” Wainwright said, adding as soon as this year’s walk is over, they will start preparing for next year.
“This is year-round for Hilda and I.”
Wainwright has been married for almost 64 years and said his wife Hilda has served as both his eyes and inspiration, “always there, in the shadows.”
For more information about the Pet Value Walk for Dog Guides, or to register or donate, visit www.walkfordogguides.com.