Those used to seeing Wayne Lundstrom walking with his dog guide, “Sammy,” may have noticed he’s been without the pooch since mid-July.
The reason why is Sammy did not manage to maintain her training and was returned to her foster family in southern Ontario.
In simplest terms, the two-year-old black Labrador retriever had stopped doing her job—and was getting distracted when she should have been working.
“When I brought her home, she was working good. But after a five-month period, she was getting distracted, getting into things,” noted Lundstrom, who graduated from the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides training facility in Oakville, Ont. back in February, at which time he returned to Fort Frances with Sammy.
He added a trainer from the facility came here to assess the situation earlier this year, and she told Lundstrom that Sammy “no longer liked her job.”
Lundstrom likened Sammy’s case to a student going to college, getting trained to a job, getting that job, and then quitting after finding out it’s not the line of work for them.
He explained that “Sammy” being distracted was not safe for either of them—and the two had to part ways.
Lundstrom wanted local residents, who may have noticed him walking without his canine companion, to know that Sammy is not sick or missing, but had gone back to her foster family, which she lived with while training.
Val Martindale of the local Voyageur Lions Club, who encouraged Lundstrom to apply for a dog guide, recalled that a representative from the school visited here in April and there was some concern at that time about how “Sammy” was behaving and how she was adjusting to being in Fort Frances.
Martindale and her husband, Jim, then were at the dog guide training school in June and told them there were concerns about “Sammy.”
The school told them they had plans to send somebody here in July to do a follow-up visit, which then occurred.
“They told me they thought it could be the dog because that sometimes happens—the dog just doesn’t adapt and it loses its focus, it loses its training, and then it doesn’t respect the owner, it won’t do anything it’s supposed to do,” Martindale noted.
“And then they take the dog back.
“They have assured me, and assured Wayne, that it wasn’t anything to do with Wayne—the dog just definitely was not focusing,” added Martindale.
“We noticed it at the dog walk [in late May]. It wasn’t focused at all. It was jumping on people.
“A dog in a harness is rock solid. They don’t deviate for anything,” she stressed. “You can wave a steak in front of its nose and it wouldn’t even move.
“But that dog was not like that, so we were very concerned.”
Natalie Moncur, spokesperson for the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, said training a dog guide continues even after the dogs leave the school—and is something they and their clients have to work on every day.
But, as in Sammy’s case, “sometimes things just don’t work out.”
“We have a very successful matching program in place with all of the trainers here, and if things aren’t going well, then they definitely make adjustments to ensure that the pairing is great so that the dog and handler can bond,” she explained.
“Now, with Sammy’s case with her not working out, she has gone to live with the foster family. But what happens is determined on a case-by-case basis,” added Moncur.
“Sometimes the dogs will return back to the school and they will continue to train and they will be paired with someone else.
“It has to be evaluated by the trainers with each individual case,” she noted.
In Sammy’s case, she couldn’t be re-trained.
“This isn’t something that happens very often,” Moncur said. “This isn’t something we address frequently because there isn’t a need.
“But sometimes it doesn’t work out, for whatever reason.
“It doesn’t mean necessarily Wayne wasn’t doing his part or that Sammy wasn’t trained well,” she stressed. “It was just a special circumstance, and sometimes you just can’t predict those things.”
Moncur said Lundstrom will be able to get another vision dog. And since he was approved by the program before, he may be able to do so sooner than later.
“They’re happy because they’ll be able to give him a dog that they think will be a better match for him,” said Martindale, adding the procedure of matching people with a dog is not simple, and that the person and dog have to be able to relate to one another and work together.
Lundstrom said Sammy was matched to him, but next time will be a better match because the trainers know him and now have a better idea about the community he lives in and has to navigate through every day.
Lundstrom said he’s all ready for a new dog, and thinks it will be a smooth transition.
He noted he’s much more prepared this time as he’s learned first-hand how to care for a dog guide and how much work it can be.
He also has everything a dog guide would need at his home.
On a side note, Lundstrom said it’s not easy to get around town with all of the construction going on in the summer.
But he added that Link Line, which has been putting in new gas lines for Union Gas, “are the best contractors,” and ensured he and Sammy were able to safely get in and out of his home when they were working near there.