When life unexpectedly deals you a bad hand, how do you cope? Councillor Mel Foat experienced this in 2013 when a routine cataract operation culminated in him losing most of his vision in his one good eye. Wrestling with how to keep his life on track, Mel chose the option of applying for a service dog from Lions Foundation of Canada (LFC) Dog Guide Program.
Recently I sat down with Mel and asked him what he initially thought about getting a service dog and then what it’s like to live with a service dog.
“Uncertainty and apprehension “were the words uppermost in Mel’s mind when trying to decide on whether to apply for a service dog or not. “Uncertainty” because he felt that there were likely people more in need of a dog than himself. “Apprehension” because of the uncertainty of not knowing exactly how his life would be affected by having a dog look after him and having to put complete trust in a dog. After much soul searching and deep discussion with family and friends, Mel decided to go ahead and apply for a dog guide through LFC. After hands-on training in Oakville, ON where Mel was paired with a 19 month old yellow Labrador, Walker arrived in Chestermere on February 14th 2014 to begin his life with Mel (and family).
“So, Mel, what was it like having a service dog living with you?” It took a while to adjust to having a dog in the home after so many years without one. There was one more mouth to feed, one more living creature to look after and, yes, more hair to vacuum up. Initially it was getting familiar with when he needed to go outside and getting him used to the local neighbourhood. And let’s not forget training him how to get me to Tim Hortons!
The big thing for Mel was Walker giving him the confidence to get back out in the community, where Mel could once again contribute. Having Walker also enabled the family to feel less anxious, knowing that Mel was in good hands (paws).
As a general guideline, service dogs have an approximate eight year working life. Unfortunately, Walker’s working life was cut short after his shoulders started to deteriorate and the decision was made, after much consultation with a local vet, The University of Saskatoon Veterinary School and LFC, that Walker could not fulfill his dog guide duties. There was no question that Walker would be kept by the Foats as a pet to live his remaining years in peaceful retirement.
Fortunately for Mel, LFC had a replacement dog guide available, so in October 2019 Mel went back to Oakville to meet and train with Warden, a 2 year old yellow Labrador who looked almost identical to Walker. In fact Walker and Warden have the same mom, but different fathers. On returning to Chestermere, Warden met Walker for the first time and the two of them hit it off really well and have done so ever since. As with all dogs, they figured out the ground rules in their unique way. Having said they look almost identical, Mel recognized that Warden’s personality was different from Walker’s. As an example, he came to understand that Warden likes to be touching him, whereas Walker was less concerned about this.
Mel explains there are many positive reasons for getting a service dog but I asked him “are there any downsides to having a service dog?” He says his biggest frustration is with the general public not understanding or not wanting to accept there is a protocol to be used when a service dog is working. Do not distract a working service dog or attempt to pet it. It could be life threatening, particularly for blind or visually challenged people.
Being the community-minded person he is, Mel would welcome the opportunity to chat about the role of service dogs in society. To contact Mel, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 403 819 7665.
Thank you Walker and Warden!