New leash on life: Regina woman gets new guide dog
Published Friday, November 23, 2018 2:51PM CST
Last Updated Friday, November 23, 2018 6:17PM CST
A local woman has a new guide dog after going almost five months without one.
Ashley Nemeth recently became the handler for Danson, two, who is one of six recent canine graduates from a new Canadian National Institute for the Blind guide dogs program.
"I just feel like I can move quicker and more freely with a guide dog,” Nemeth said.
Nemeth is also a CNIB program lead for southern Saskatchewan. She was without a guide dog for four and a half months, using a cane during that time after her former service dog, Rick, was hit by a cyclist and had his paw run over. It led to stress, anxiety and an early retirement to a good home, but left Nemeth using a cane.
"In order for me to travel safely, I have to run into things to know where I am. So fire hydrants, poles, cracks in the sidewalk, I have to find those things in order to navigate.” Nemeth said.
Instead, Danson is trained to avoid all the obstacles, keep Nemeth walking in a straight line, so she can focus on keeping track of how many intersections she’s crossed to get from point a to point b.
"Sandwich board signs on the sidewalks, people not shoveling their sidewalks. All of these things that are constantly in your way are major hazards with a white cane. Whereas with a guide dog, sometimes you don’t even know they are there because he just avoids them,” Nemeth said.
Danson helps guide Nemeth through everyday tasks, like getting to work and taking her kids to school. But when Danson is off harness, he’s free to be a dog.
“So when I’m at work and he gets to just kind of chill out on his bed behind my desk. And then when I’m home, he gets to play with the kids and just be a dog,” Nemeth said,
Nemeth offered advice for anyone who encounters a guide dog.
"Ignore the dog completely. That includes petting, barking at them, getting their attention in any way. If the dog is looking at you they’re not focused on their job at hand,” Nemeth said.
“You’d never pet my white cane. So please don’t pet my dog.”
The new CNIB program has been running for 18 months, with six dogs graduating on Friday. There are other guide dog school available, but CNIB felt the need to offer more options in Canada, with a specific focus on visual and blind clients. Trainers say they seek out retriever breeds, because that type of dog tends to be very willing, with a good work ethic and can be easily adaptable.
"Also, public perception as well, people are going to be probably more willing to help someone who may have a lab or golden retriever other than maybe a breed they’re not familiar or comfortable with,” CNIB guide dogs trainer Shona Kemp said.
The dogs are bred to be guides from day one.
Puppies are sent to homes to be trained basic obedience, social skills and not to chase.
"Cause we don't want the dogs having that big chase instinct. And by doing that the dogs never really get bought into that,” kemp said.
CNIB plans to continue the program next year with more dogs to continue supporting people in need.