International Guide Dog Day: Airdrie couple discuss raising dogs with tough jobs

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They’ll tell you right away that 14-month-old Lulu still has work to do, but then again, she’s being asked to make near-perfect decisions in a complicated world.


For dogs like Lulu, struggling or even failing is a bit like a human failing to be an astronaut or a surgeon.


“You’re literally putting your life in the hands of the dog,” said Sandra Cramer, puppy training supervisor for British Columbia and Alberta Guide Dogs.



Our visually impaired customers rely on these dogs to make the right decisions for them to keep them safe,”


Lulu has been with her current full-time trainers, Hugh and Joan Norris, since she was around eight weeks old. The retired couple from Airdrie are raising their fifth guide dog candidate, laying the foundation for more advanced training to come.


“It’s emotional work and it’s tough work – it’s a lot of work,” says Joan.


April 27 is International Guide Dog Day, recognizing those specialist dogs who truly are man’s best friend. Canines help the visually impaired navigate traffic and train stations, making difficult choices to prevent accidents.


Lulu has challenges that might prevent her from playing this role; she gets excited and vocalizes, which is an automatic failure.


“We have a 100 percent success rate in raising a friendly dog. We have about a 60 percent success rate in raising a service dog,” Cramer said.



An even smaller percentage then serve as guide dogs for the visually impaired.


In the 25 years since the organization’s founding in the West, 139 guide dogs have graduated, in addition to 65 autism service dogs and 88 OSI-PTSD service dogs.


As difficult as the job of training these dogs is, there is also the emotional strain of giving them up as they graduate. Hugh Norris remembers the first dog they trained, Bruce, and the day he was finally called up for advanced training in Vancouver.


“You take him to the airport and give him to a flight attendant and they fly to Vancouver for advanced training, so we were looking at him and we were about to turn our backs on him and he went back and looked at us and we were like ‘oh rats!'”


“You have to remember what the dog is trained for and what it needs,” he said.

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