Dog guides a boon to owners’ health

Taylor Martin walks his seizure response dog, Scooby, along Woodbine Beach boardwalk during the Walk for Dog Guides on May 26. The annual walk aimed to raise $1.2 million for the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
Taylor Martin walks his seizure response dog, Scooby, along Woodbine Beach boardwalk during the Walk for Dog Guides on May 26. The annual walk aimed to raise $1.2 million for the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Soon after Taylor Martin and his dog Scooby joined dozens of others on the boardwalk for the Beach’s Walk for Dog Guides, the two were leading the pack.

That’s true to form, says Julie Martin, Taylor’s mother. Eighteen months since he paired up with Scooby, a black lab trained as a seizure response dog by the Lions Foundation, Julie has seen big strides in her son’s health, and his confidence.

When they went to Winter Woofstock, a pre-Christmas dog fest with classes on canine cupcakes and a “running of the pugs,” Taylor surprised organizers by asking to go on stage and show everyone what Scooby can do.

Taylor faked an epileptic seizure, and right away Scooby barked for help. Then he had Scooby follow some special commands, which include easing Taylor into chair, acting as a brace to help him get up off the floor and curling up beside him to help calm him down. Scooby can even be trained to trigger a line that dials 911.

“The best thing is that since he’s had Scooby, he hasn’t had a seizure,” Julie said, adding that it may be due to the greater peace of mind Taylor gets from having Scooby beside him all the time.

After the walk, one of 200 held across the Toronto area on May 26, Taylor was scheduled for surgery at Sick Kids Hospital, where Scooby can go along with him.

And when Taylor starts Grade 9 this fall, Scooby will be the first dog guide ever to walk the school hallways.

“It kind of makes you the cool kid, and that really helps,” said Julie. “Scooby is a big ice-breaker. Kids have no problems coming up and asking him ‘Why do you have a dog?’”

Karoline Bordeau, who just started working with Franky, her fifth seeing-eye dog, agrees that dog guides are popular with everyone.

Dog guides typically work for about 10 years, she said, after which they retire to new homes as pets.

“I have line-ups,” Bordeau said. “When I announce I’m retiring one, the calls come in from far and wide.”

Natalie Moncur, a spokesperson for the Lions Foundation, says the Lions’ dog guide school in Oakville just graduated its 2,000th dog and handler team.

Like Scooby, the graduating dog was trained to recognize seizures. Unlike Scooby, the dog was trained to deal with his owner’s much more severe seizures – one of about 50 types of seizure that range from the violent shaking typically shown in TV shows or movies, to a more subtle seizure that makes people appear to “space out” for a short time.

Such specialized training costs about $20,000 per dog, a cost covered entirely by the Lions Foundation (dog guides are provided by the Lions and other charities, and are not covered by Ontario’s healthcare system). Moncur said anyone interested in helping the dog guides program is welcome to join the annual walk, sponsor a family’s training visit or make individual donations directly at dogguides.com.


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