This seeing eye dog, Irv, helps one Red Deer man with his every day activities. Photo contributed

Red Deer walk to help provide dog guides to Canadians with disability

Switching from a cane to a canine changed one Red Deer man’s life.

Gary Hiney has had retina pigmentosa all his life, but the condition got worse about six years ago. That’s when Hiney’s life changed: he could no longer work or drive, or do any of his daily activities without a cane.

But then Irv, a canine vision guide dog, came along about three years ago.

“It’s life changing. It not only gives you confidence, but a sense of balance,” Hiney explained.

“You build this bond with your dog.”

The Red Deer man said none of this would’ve been possible without volunteers and businesses such as Pet Valu that support Lions Foundation of Canada – a national charity whose mission is to assist Canadians with a medical or physical disability by providing them with dog guides at no cost.

Hiney and Irv will be at the Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides on May 26 in Red Deer showing support for the event that helps to raise, train and place dog guides.

While each dog guide costs an average of $25,000, they are provided free of charge to qualifying Canadians.

“We’re very fortunate to be living in Canada where this is possible,” said Hiney.

Today, the 63-year-old Red Deerian is more confident to do everyday activities. This past winter, he went to Portugal with Irv to get away from the Alberta winter, something he says wouldn’t have been possible without his seeing eye dog.

“He got me over there and back.”

He describes Irv as sociable and quiet. When the harness is on, Irv is on the job, but when that harness comes off, the three-and-a-half-year-old companion is like any other dog.

“When he is out of the harness, I take him to the dog park, he’s just a dog. He plays with other dogs, he loves it,” he explained.

Tammy Dahl, who is hosting the Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides in Red Deer, said she has seen Irv mature into a guide dog and help Hiney.

“It’s so hard to not just want to hug his dog. He’s a black lab and he’s just beautiful, and so kind. But you realize this dog is basically helping Gary get through life and get to Point A to B,” she said, noting petting service dogs is a no-no.

By participating in the nation-wide walk, you can help provide life-changing dog guides to Canadians with disabilities, Dahl noted.

The event has raised more than $17 million to date across the country.

Dahl hopes the turnout at the third annual walk in Red Deer is higher than the past two years, as more central Albertans learn about the event.

The walk supports canine vision dog guides, hearing dog guides, service dog guides, autism assistance dog guides, diabetic alert dog guides and support dog guides.

There’s no registration fee. Dahl said money is raised through sponsorhsips and donations.

Those looking to register can do so online at walkfordogguidescom. Registration is also open the day of the event starting at 9 a.m., followed by the walk at 10 a.m. at Three Mile Bend.

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