Before they go on to help people with disabilities, puppies bred by the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides program typically go through some basic training with foster families. Last month was something of a bonanza, with more than four dozen puppies born, prompting the organization to issue a call for volunteers.
“We had 49 puppies born in January. We do have people waiting to foster, but 49 is a lot of puppies to place. So that’s what we’re looking for is to build up our reserve of foster families for the spring,” said Lisa Kruitwagen, puppy program supervisor for the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.
Anyone who lives within an hour of the group’s Breslau facility can apply to be a foster. All the dogs are bred by the organization, which hasn’t stopped training puppies throughout the pandemic. They temporarily put a pause on their breeding program but resumed it last spring.
“We breed Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, standard poodle. And then we also have a mixture: we mix Labrador and golden retrievers together,” said Kruitwagen about the breeds used in the program, adding that each dog is matched to a task based on its individual traits.
The Lions have seven programs to provide dog guides to persons with disabilities: canine visions, hearing, autism assistance, diabetic alert, seizure response, service for those with a physical or mental disability, and facility support for assisting individuals in traumatic situations.
“If It’s really sniffy – they really like to use their nose – that might not be the best dog for canine vision, for instance, but for diabetic alert that could be they’re the most important skill,” she said.
“We’re really lucky in that we can take advantage of all the dog’s natural inclination to greater or lesser degree. There’s a lot of training that happens, special skills training, but we try and put the dogs where they’re going to be happiest. We find our foster families are very passionate people and really want to contribute to their fellow Canadians.”
The 16-month long program aims to give puppies a chance to develop house manners and experience real-life activities such as running errands.
“They pick up a puppy at around seven weeks old. Then they would train it with basic obedience, house manners, and then just have the puppy kind of participate in their life. So, we ask them to expose the puppy to anything that they might be participating in their life. So, taking them to the grocery store and the dentist and the movie theatre.”
Most costs, such as veterinary expenses, are covered for fosters by the Lions Foundation, and the Pet Valu group helps with supplying food.
“We provide all the equipment. The thing that fosters usually have to pay for themselves is they like to buy a collar and leash because that’s fun. And then food bowls, toys, things like that. Anything that’s essential is covered by Lions,” said Kruitwagen.
“The puppies, are of course priceless. We’re asking people to provide us with just a basic police record check that’s valid from the within the last three years.”