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Service Dogs

July 31, 2020

The five Islanders who have been waiting for their service dogs will have to wait even longer, since the Lions Foundation of Canada has had to suspend its dog training program due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across Canada, there are 80 people waiting for service dogs trained to assist people living with a number of conditions.

Sam Sanderson, provincial director of the foundation, said the program has been halted, as well as the 30-day in-person training in Oakville, Ont., because there’s no safe way to conduct it given current restrictions and health safety concerns.

“It makes it pretty near impossible to conduct the live training sessions when there’s so much person-to-person and hand-to-hand training. Number one is the protection of the client, the staff and everybody associated with the training regime, so it creates some major challenges,” he said.

“With travel and stuff, it creates challenges as well, with the self-isolation part of it — and all the other factors involved with inter-provincial travel.”

Clients with some of the conditions that service dogs would assist with are also at a heightened risk for COVID-19, Sanderson said.

“Our seven programs with vision, hearing, autism assistance, service, seizure response, diabetic alert, and facility support — there’s challenges all the way around with every aspect of the service dog training,” he said.

Sanderson said staff are doing what they can to continue training dogs who are currently with foster families, until the standard training courses are able to continue.

But he acknowledges that, for the 80 Canadians waiting for service dogs, it’s a difficult time.

“It’s certainly having an impact for sure, because every day they’re waiting affects their mobility, potentially could affect their safety when you look at diabetic alert, seizure response and autism dogs, for sure,” Sanderson said.

“It’s having a big impact all the way around.” There’s no firm date set for when the training programs will be able to resume, Sanderson said, adding that it could be as early as next week — but he can’t make assumptions given the ever-changing pandemic situation.

“Definitely it’s going to take some time for catch up because, like I said, it is at a 100-per-cent standstill. We’re working every hour to try and meet the provincial requirements and get back up in operation,” he said.

“It certainly defers everybody down the line, no matter where they are positioned within the waiting list. So it just prolongs the process for absolutely everybody.”

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