“Who let the dogs out?” asked Baha Men in their breakout song. On May 26, the answer will be the Lions Foundation of Canada, which is bringing the Purina Walk for Dog Guides to Elmira for the ninth year running.
The annual five-kilometre trek through Elmira helps raise money to train and donate dog guides to six categories of Canadians with disabilities: visually impaired, hard of hearing, children with autism, people with epilepsy, people with medical or physical disabilities, and people with type 1 diabetes (a new category introduced this year).
Lisa Colombo, whose 10-year-old son Matthew was diagnosed with autism, discovered the Lions’ Breslau-based dog-breeding and training program four years ago. She said that Cash, the family’s Lions-sponsored dog, has helped her son immeasurably.
“It helps the individual go from their home into the community,” said Colombo. “For me, that’s the biggest thing: just helping Matthew navigate the world outside of home.”
“I can’t believe the change in Matthew since Cash came into his life,” added Nancy Booth, event organizer from the Woolwich Community Lions Clubs. “The first year, he really shied away from people. He didn’t really say a whole lot. Now, if he sees me at school he comes up behind me and taps me on the shoulder and talks away. He never did that before.”
Events like the Walk for Dogs Guides are critical to the Lions’ fundraising mission. When dogs are selected, they have to be trained for just under a year. After that, the matching process can take two to four weeks, to help build a relationship between the client and the dog. Booth estimates that the cost to train one dog for the Lions can be in excess of $20,000.
“What most people don’t realize is the dogs are donated from the Lions Club at no cost. The Lions Club solely depends on donations and fundraisers,” said Booth.
“With autism, the push right now is to have children diagnosed early to help with support early on,” said Colombo. “As a child moves into adulthood, if they’ve had the diagnosis early on, and support is put in place – therapy, support, a guide dog, adapting programs – their life looks very much different.”
The walk departs from the Kissing Bridge Trail (Arthur Street entrance) at 9 a.m. on May 26. More information on how to register and donate can be found on www.walkfordogguides.com. Matthew Colombo will be among the participants, and is accepting donations at www.purinawalkfordogguides.com/donationWalker.cfm?WalkerID=9438.
Lisa Colombo added, “Being in this walk is a great opportunity to Matthew and us to just give back to an opportunity that we’ve been given.”