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Walk for Dog Guides in Nobleton

May 21, 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Mark Pavilons
Attitudes are changing and fortunately for society many have made it their goal to improve accessibility for everyone with a disability.
For Nobleton’s Bev Berger, her mobility takes the form of a “furry package.”
For more than 30 years, Berger has been a walking testament to strength, determination and increasing awareness for the plight of the disabled.
It’s been her crusade, a successful one at that. The witty and well spoken Berger is the perfect spokesperson for the Lions Foundation of Canada’s Dog Guide program, a role she’s helped shape over the decades. Of course, her four-legged companions often steal the show when she speaks to audiences across Canada about the Lions’ commitment, one that dates back almost 100 years.
It was in 1925 that blind activist Helen Keller challenged Lions clubs worldwide to be “knights of the blind.” They took it to heart and the Lions have been the main supporters of helping those with vision loss on so many levels.
Their National Dog Guides Training School in Oakville is world renowned. The Lions have graduated more than 2,000 teams since they founded Canine Vision Canada in 1985. The goal is the graduate 160 teams annually.
Being a veteran recipient, Berger has taken the dog by the harness, literally, to become one of the Lions’ biggest cheerleaders. She has good reason to be proud.
The small but mighty Nobleton Lions Club actually approached Berger about getting a dog, after seeing her out and about using her white cane. Who knew this would be the beginning of a lifelong friendship and bond.
In September of 1989 Berger’s life changed forever and for the better. Her first dog, Reb became her new set of “wheels” and after some initial adjustment, Reb became her best friend, setting the stage for the future.
The bulk of the dog guides are yellow labs or golden retrievers. Labs, she said, are known for their “elastic hearts”
Her current companion Jasper will be handing up his harness this fall, making way for a new guide dog – Bev’s fifth. Jasper has had a service career with Bev that goes back to 2006.
It takes roughly one year for a team to get completely comfortable with one another. They have to become close in every way, both physically and emotionally. With each new dog comes some adjustment in terms of physical size that affects walking patterns and Bev’s gait.
Having companions by her side for so long, she can’t see herself living without one.
“As long as I have a heart and two feet, I’m going to have a dog,” she said. “I can’t imagine living as independently as I can without a dog guide.”
These animals aren’t pets – they’re so much more. “Dogs have crept so deeply into my psyche, it’s an extension of myself.”
She’s always feeling around the floor for her sidekick, looking for that physical presence and sense of reassurance.
The dogs have “made my life shift from being disabled to being enabled,” she said.
The freedom, independence and mobility they bring is beyond words.
She’s taken Jasper to downtown Toronto and enjoys a great sense of power as he weaves through the crowds with ease.
Their trained to avoid obstacles, but those everyday hurdles change constantly.
She regularly strides through Nobleton, but admitted the construction and traffic are providing some challenges.
She places a great deal of trust in Jasper, but she, too, has her responsibilities. She’s the problem-solver and has to be attentive to her surroundings. The volume of traffic along both King Road and Highway 27 has increased dramatically over the years, to the point that Berger avoids that intersection. She prefers to cross at Sheardown or Wilsen.
But there have been times when she gets turned around and ends up saying to herself “whoa, how did I get here?”
Berger will be heading back to school and training in the coming months. Her new companion is chosen for her based on suitability. Trainers size up both the person and animal and match them as best they can in terms of physical ability, size, etc.
The growing demand on the six different dog guide programs the Lions offer means more people will be helped, but costs continue to rise. And so it’s time to ring the bells of support for the Lions Foundation.
Costs vary, but hover around $25,000 for each dog, when you consider breeding, foster families, medical services and intensive training. Recipients stay at the Lions’ facility for one month and engage in daily training with their new companions.
People like Berger want to ensure there are always funds to keep the programs going and expanding. In recent years, there has been a tremendous desire for service dogs for autistic individuals.
Berger will participate in her 25th fundraising walk this Sunday, May 25 as the Nobleton Lions present the Purina Walk for Dog Guides.
It’s an opportunity for the Lions to promote their main charity and for the community to get out, show off their pets and enjoy the day together.
She hopes the residents of King and surrounding areas embrace this event. Everyone is welcome to attend, as long as their dogs are social and walk well on a leash. The event begins at 9 a.m. at the gazebo in front of the Nobleton Library.
You can register, sponsor or donate to the cause, or a walker. Visit http://www.dogguides.com/purinawalk.html.
“No one knows what the future holds,” she said. “Maybe next week a dog guide will change someone’s life.”
Enough said.

         

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