Chestermere City Councillor Mel Foat is adjusting well to life with his new dog guide, Warden.
Foat brought Warden to Chestermere on Oct. 4, after spending three weeks in Oakville Ont., training with the dog.
“It was very intense, and there were long days. We were usually up by 6 a.m. and back in by 11 p.m., six days a week,” Foat said.
“We would go out with trainers and walk down to different places just so the dog could work on different grounds, steps, and curves,” Foat added. “We did two days in the rain.”
The first dog guide Foat had, Walker had to retire due to front shoulder deterioration.
Walker was assessed by veterinarians at the University of Saskatoon.
Foat was told that Walker would work forever in pain. However, it was recommended to retire him.
“Walker is still here, and he is retired on the couch now. He’s become a pet, and we adopted him back into the family,” Foat said.
“I got the W-dogs, I have to be careful which dog I call. At first, Walker would come, but now he knows he’s retired, and he ignores me now,” Foat added. “They do have attitudes.”
Walker and Warden get along remarkably well. Both dogs met for the first time on the front driveway and checked each other out.
Although the transition has gone well, it has taken Foat some time to adjust to working with another dog, after connecting with Walker for so long.
“It’s been really weird. Walker was my first dog, and I put a lot of faith, a lot of love in him and trust, now I have to do that all over again with the new dog,” Foat said.
“I knew what the dogs could do. I just put that trust in Warden. It’s getting used to him all over again,” he added.
During Foats first time walking around Chestermere with Walker, a driver drove through a crosswalk that Foat was on. Walker immediately stopped as the vehicle sped off.
“Warden was trained exactly like Walker. My first walk out with my granddaughter when I got home, somebody blew a crosswalk on us, and that had happened with Walker also. The dogs reacted exactly the same way,” Foat said.
He added, “I wish that everybody would learn to pay attention when they drive, I really do. That’s my scariest thing, whether I’m in Toronto or I’m in Chestermere.”
Warden’s personality is the polar opposite of Walker, in which Warden enjoys being close to Foat and laying on his feet while Walker enjoys having his own space.
“Warden, he loves to play in the snow. When you take off his harness and put him in the backyard, he acts like a kangaroo. He’s popping up all over the place. You wouldn’t believe that he’s a service dog,” Foat said.
Whenever Warden walks into a situation, he is extremely calm, even during training at the train station in Toronto.
“It’s neat to have those two different characteristics in a dog. Between Walker and Warden, they are two different styles of dogs, but they are still so precious,” Foat said.
Warden first began his dog guide journey training as an autism assistance dog guide. However, he walked too fast and was too excited and failed the class.
After failing the autism assistance class, Warden was moved over to the sight class where he excelled.
“When I called down, they said ‘We know a dog that would work for Mel, because he likes to walk a lot and he walks fast,’” Foat said.
“They gave Warden to me, and he does walk fast,” he said.
Adding, “He’s a natural, he was ahead of the class, and he just knew what to do and how to do it. All I did was hang on.”
Warden spends all of his time with Foat, leading him around, allowing for Foat to continue his work as a City Councillor, going to conventions, and meetings.
“It’s so interesting, if I go with another councillor or administration staff, I will tell Warden who to follow, and he will follow them,” Foat said.
“The first time in the city hall, I didn’t say a word to him, and we walked in the doors, I said, ‘Let’s go to the council chambers,’ and he took me down the hallway and led me right in,” he said.
During council meetings, Warden will lay on Foats feet under the desk until around 9 p.m., and then go lay on his bed, let out a loud sigh, and go to sleep.
Despite their short time being together, Foat and Warden have already formed an unbreakable connection.
“The trainer said it was one of the fastest connections they have ever seen made,” Foat said.
Moving forward, Foat is focusing on giving service dogs to western Canadians who require them with the
second annual Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guide Walk in May.
“We want to put more service dogs out in western Canada, there is such a need for them,” Foat said.
Adding, “The foundation is possibility going to expand to accommodate the demand.”