In a sightless world during COVID-19 you can’t see where arrows on a floor are, or how far apart you are from others, and you cannot tell how many people are around you. A guide dog can.
Travel restrictions, including border closures caused by COVID-19, have resulted in a 300 per cent increase in interest for Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) guide dog applications.
“Guide dog handlers who have travelled to the United States in the past to obtain a guide dog are now looking for a “made in Canada” solution as soon as possible,” the CNIB website states.
“A global pandemic that closes borders and reduces access to guide dogs isn’t something anyone planned for, but it’s something we can overcome,” said Diane Bergeron, president of CNIB Guide Dogs.
“CNIB is committed to addressing this issue head on.”
Of course, the increase in demand has left CNIB in desperate need of donations and the organization has launched a national campaign looking for help from the public.
Guide Dogs are professionally trained for blind and partially-sighted individuals to observe, recognize dangers and common signals, and behave in a way to help their handlers navigate the world around them.
“Not having a guide dog has decreased my confidence. I feel less safe when I travel. I’m constantly worrying about bumping into something, someone or harming myself.” Jack McCormick, a previous guide dog owner said.
“A guide dog can help me do so many things, I have the flexability and freedom to go new places and do things that I can’t do with a white cane.”
McCormick is currently waiting for a CNIB Guide Dog after he and his dog were hit by a distracted driver, causing his dog to have to be retired.
With physical distancing measures in place, it has meant group training is not an option for guide dogs and their handlers. In order to keep staff and people who are training with their new guide dogs safe, CNIB Guide Dogs has adjusted its program to accommodate one-on-one training, at a significant cost.
That cost, however, is not passed on to the person in need of the dog.
“We believe every Canadian who needs a guide dog should have that opportunity – at no cost.” Bergeron added.
CNIB is also exploring new avenues to help defer costs, beyond traditional donations, such as apprenticeship opportunities for guide dog trainers and mobility instructors.
“Those are people with very specific skills” said Bergeron.
There are opportunities to help through other organizations such as raising a puppy or boarding an adult dog as volunteers with BC & Alberta Guide Dogs, although some of these opportunities are only available if you live close to a training school.
The nearest office of CNIB in the North is located in Prince George, with the main training facilities for guide dogs being the Canine Campus in Ottawa, Ontario.