Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/12/2017 (849 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Her name will be Jocie.
Already named and not even here yet, Jocie is the first puppy with a Winnipeg benefactor willing to foot the entire $50,000 cost of her training and care as a guide dog for the blind.
Jocie was the name of the late wife of philanthropist, dog lover and car dealer Jim Gauthier.
The dog is a puppy from Australia born to a litter destined to be the first guide dogs for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg, Halifax and Toronto were chosen to be the three cities where the service agency will launch the country’s first national guide dog program.
People with sight problems and the money to pay for guide dogs have typically gone to the United States or private kennels in Canada to purchase the service animals. Waiting lists, however, are longer than breeders can fill and a steep cost is another deterrent, even though studies show people with guide dogs suffer less depression and lead more vital lives.
"After I heard the story and how long people in Winnipeg wait to get a dog, up to four years, and just listening to the benefits, it didn’t take me long to make up my mind," Gauthier said.
Within an hour of hearing about the problem, Gauthier offered to underwrite the first pup.
"When the CNIB approached me, it hit home," Gauthier said. "We’re animal lovers and Winnipeg has been very good to the Gauthier family."
Margot Ross, manager of philanthropy with the Winnipeg chapter of the CNIB, called Gauthier this fall to jump-start the campaign and raise as much as $300,000 to pay for the cost of as many as six puppies. They are expected to arrive from a breeder in Australia in late January or early February, barely weaned, just nine weeks old.
Hundreds of people applied to be puppy foster parents and fewer than a dozen were chosen to raise the puppies during the first two years before the dogs are enrolled in intensive training courses to become guide dogs.
But money to pay for it all was slow in coming, Ross explained.
"It is so expensive to invest in training guide dogs and we’re getting them from a geneticist breeder to make sure we get the best dog available," Ross said. "Fifty thousand dollars is the cost for each dog from birth to the time they retire and that covers all the training, vet bills and food."
Gauthier is planning a puppy party to greet the litter, an event to push ahead a challenge to raise the rest of the funding from competing dealerships.
"We’ll make an event out of it to show the puppies arriving. We still need money for the other five dogs and I’m hoping to get some of the other dealers to contribute to it."
The CNIB program is different from existing services. The agency has pledged to cover the entire cost of the dog so it’s guaranteed a good life with its owner, regardless of the owner’s financial circumstances.
It’s also a charity close to Gauthier’s heart; his wife, who died suddenly three years ago, loved animals and children and was heavily involved in charities for both. The Gauthiers built the million-dollar dog training centre at the Winnipeg Humane Society, named for Joyce Gauthier. It exists to train rescue dogs and make them adoptable.
"The new CNIB guide dog program will take some pressure off waiting lists and offer more choices for clients. There are no guide dog schools in Manitoba," Ross said.
It’ll be about two years before the first dogs are ready to work in Manitoba, which gives the agency time to evaluate and train prospective owners.
"Lots of folks who are blind or with significant sight loss may want a guide dog but there is a rigorous screening and training process. A client must have strong ‘white cane’ skills (mobility and orientation) before being paired with a guide dog and, once paired, meet the ongoing expectations of the guide dog trainers," Ross said.
The program marks the 100th anniversary of the CNIB, which got its start after soldiers were blinded during the First World War and after the 1917 Halifax Harbour Explosion, when many people lost their sight from shattered glass.
Updated on Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 10:40 AM CST: Edited