Local resident Wayne Lundstrom returned to Fort Frances on Friday with a new graduate from the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides training facility in Oakville, Ont.
“Oasis” is a two-year-old Yellow Lab/Golden Retriever which has been specially-trained to help the vision-impaired man.
Lundstrom had a vision dog, “Sammy,” two years ago, but she did not manage to maintain her training and was returned to her foster family in southern Ontario.
But Lundstrom has a good feeling about “Oasis,” who’s so named for her fondness of water.
“I think this dog’s going to work,” he remarked, noting “Oasis” is a patient, quiet dog who likes children, and already seems more devoted to him than “Sammy” was.
Lundstrom said “Oasis” already is learning how to navigate the neighbourhood, go around street construction, and so forth.
He also brought “Oasis” to the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce Home & Leisure Show here on the weekend and noted she was well-behaved, following the red carpet walkway laid out on the arena floor as if it was a sidewalk.
Both “Oasis” and Lundstrom graduated from the training facility last week after 18 days of training together.
Lundstrom said they are a “team,” and that this time while attending the school, he learned better the importance of giving the vision dog time to get to learn how to navigate in its environment and bond with its client.
“I learned to take it more slower than I did last time,” he admitted, adding it takes about a year together before the client and vision dog learn to work together as a solid working unit.
It also is important that people other than the handler do not get too close or attached to the dog as it may cause a disturbance in their relationship.
Lundstrom must be the one to feed, groom and walk “Oasis” at all times.
If something were to happen to Lundstrom, where he had to be hospitalized, for instance, “Oasis” would stay with an appointed “custodian family.”
Lundstrom said the mother in the foster family which had “Oasis” when she was younger took her to work in an office, so the dog is used to an office environment.
This is good because Lundstrom is becoming the Voyageur Lions Club secretary and so “Oasis” will be at ease while he’s working on a laptop computer.
“Oasis” also is a slightly taller dog than “Sammy,” which means Lundstrom won’t have to lean forward while walking her.
“She’s a better match than the other dog. They did a better match this time,” he remarked.
While Lundstrom has gotten along without a vision dog for years, he said having one is much better than using a cane.
“Oasis” has been trained to find curbs, follow directions (like stopping, going left or right, or going through a doorway), stop at traffic lights, and follow commands like “sit,” “wait,” and “down,” or even to go to the bathroom on command.
She can navigate streets and buildings, can climb stairs and ride escalators, telling Lundstrom when to step off, and if need be, could go on a bus or subway.
Lundstrom said “Oasis” lets him keep his independence, and offers him companionship both on the street and at home.
However, “Oasis” differs from a pet dog as she is property of the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. She has been trained since she was a pup, and in nine years she will retire and return to the Foundation.
At that time, Lundstrom will go back to the school and train with another suitable canine companion, he explained.
Other kinds of dog guides are trained at the school.
For example, they train hearing ear dog guides, which respond to sounds for deaf clients and follow hand signals, or special skills dog guides that can open and close doors, operate light switches, and retrieve dropped items.
Still others are seizure response dog guides, which bark for help and are able to activate an alert system if their clients have a seizure.
Autism assistance dog guides help calm autistic children in high-anxiety situations and reduce stress they experience in public places.