Before Mel Foat was a Chestermere City Councilor and a Director of the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides he was involved in the agriculture industry.
Foat worked around the province and ended up consulting on a farm west of Calgary. As soon as his grandchildren started coming Foat and his wife moved to Chestermere to be closer to family.
However, six years ago Foat’s world turned upside down after he was forced into retirement when a routine procedure went awry.
“I was forced into retirement because I couldn’t see,” he said.
Foat went for a simple cataract operation. During his procedure the surgeons ran into a complication, which cost Foat his eye sight in one eye.
Foat’s eye had a virus attached to the optical nerve.
While the cataract built on his eye, the eye hemorrhaged and triggered the virus to grow and spread quickly.
“It consumed one at the time,” Foat said.
“They went to clean the eye up, I asked them if there was any danger of it getting into the other eye and they said it was a 0.1 per cent chance of that happening,” he added, “Within ten hours it was in the other eye and it took my vision there also.”
The virus caused Foat’s eye to detach, the eye had to be stapled, lasered and stitched back on to its original place.
A high dose of Prednisone, and an experimental drug from Ottawa Ont., that was in the trail phase was given to Foat and injected into his eye five times in an attempt to stop the virus from causing more damage.
“They got the virus shut down, it took five injections into the eye of about eight thousand dollars a shot,” Foat said.
Since then Foat has had seven surgeries on his eyes, which still give him unbearable pain today.
“The pain is still there to this day, but the best way I can explain is like slamming your fingers in a car door, your eyes just thump, thump, thump all the time. With medication I’m able to control the pain and I’m able to see light and shadows now,” Foat said.
Foat however, is still required to take a medication to keep the virus subdued.
“The doctor explained it’s like living with cancer. It could fire up at any time, you never know. They really don’t know what type of virus it is. It’s one of those unknowns.”
Before Foat’s Guide Dog Walker, a six-year-old Golden Lab Retriever, came into his life he was trapped inside his house for nearly a year.
“It was hard for me to go out,” he said, “I just wanted to be low key for a while.”
Foat began to memorize his house and his yard.
His wife would take him out, so he could practice using his white cane that he needed to use to get around.
In January 2014 Foat received Walker after six months of applications and interviews with the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.
Foat and Walker had an undefinable connection from the very beginning. The moment Walker came into the same room as Foat he went and laid down on his feet.
“I didn’t pick him, he picked me. I didn’t know until the next morning when they brought the dog to me that they had selected Walker for me.
“They said that’s the first time that something like that’s happened since they opened in 1985. The dog selected the same person that it was supposed to go to.
“I have a faith, a pastor prayed with me before that I would have an amazing bond to the dog that was selected for me, I say that’s my god send,” he said.
Without Walker, Foat would be unable to be a member of the Chestermere City Council and be a Director of the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides where he promotes service dogs in Alberta and in the North West Territories.
“I know that if Walker is around I will be safe. He reads traffic, he reads people, he reads situations, he knows left from right.
“If I was walking down a side walk and there was an obstruction in front of me, Walker has been trained to stop and then if I want to go around I’ll say, ‘Walker, find a way,’ and he’ll take me around and then bring me back onto the side walk,” Foat said.
However, learning to completely trust Walker wasn’t an easy transition for Foat. It was difficult for him trust Walker enough to step off the curb and cross the street.
“It was just a lump in my throat,” he said.
The largest test of trust for Foat after receiving Walker was when Foat went to Oakville Ont., for a month for work.
Foat’s gained absolute trust in his guide dog when Walker saved his life in Chestermere just after they returned from Ontario.
A vehicle drove through a cross walk right when Foat was about to cross the street.
“He came over and stopped right in front of my legs, and I couldn’t go any further. Walker knows that when he comes up to a cross walk he has to stop, it isn’t safe. If I say, ‘Go forward,’ and it’s safe he will go, if it’s not safe he will wait until it is safe.”
Foat and Walker have become best friends while on their journey together, and Walker is a beloved honourary member of city council.
“Walker is a very social dog, he loves people paying attention to him, the greatest thing is that when he puts on his collar, leash, and harness he knows he’s in working mode.
“When you take off that harness he turns into a normal dog, that’s the transition that council and residents of Chestermere are just amazed by,” Foat added, “I’ve been so blessed to have Walker guide me and protect me.
“He’s never ever too far from me at any time, when I’m in the house, at council, in meetings he’s usually curled up on my right or my left side. Council is really accommodating for Walker.”
Foat jokingly added that, Walker got elected in 2017 to Chestermere City Council so he goes along with him.
Walker is given treats at city council, has a bed, and after a brief ceremony at the Oct. 1 council meeting where he was named deputy dog, Walker has his own name plate as well.
“I really consider it an honour to be accepted by Chestermere.
“Everybody looks out for me, I would say that Walker has been adopted by Chestermere. He’s Chestermere’s dog too,” Foat said.
He added, Walker will work for him for eight years at the most, and then will be put into retirement where he will stay in Foat’s household.
All funding that the Lions Foundation of Canada Guide Dogs receives is done by private donation and goes to training service dogs for those who have autism, seizures, diabetes, PTSD, are hearing impaired, or those who require service.
To get involved with the Lions Foundation of Canada Guide Dogs visit their Website at www.dogguides.com/programs.html.