Disabled Canadians struggle to be paired with service animals amid pandemic

Disabled Canadians struggle to be paired with service animals amid pandemic

If the past three months without a service dog have been a challenge for Ann Moxley, the next year seems poised to be a struggle.

The Victoria resident, who lives with physical disabilities, used to rely on her faithful companion Gretzky for a variety of household tasks. She fondly recalls times when Gretzky would pick up a wallet that slipped from her pocket or retrieve a toque and mittens blown into the road by a gust of wind.

But Moxley has been without his support since his death from a rare liver condition in April. And since the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Canada’s service dog training schools to halt or suspend their programs, she isn’t scheduled to meet his successor until at least July 2021.

“It’s hard, it’s all I can do to exist,” Moxley said in an interview. “It’s incredibly lonely.”

Moxley plans to get her new companion from Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, a school based in Oakville, Ont., that trains service animals to support people with a range of physical and sensory disabilities.

Chief Executive Officer Beverly Crandell said COVID-19 has forced the school to cancel in-person training classes, adding more names to an already-lengthy waiting list of people eager for service dog support.

She said while dogs have been successfully placed in foster homes while classes are on-hold, addressing the needs of their future human partners has proven much more complex.

“Clients are a different story,” Crandell said. “… They have been put on hold.”

Figures provided by the school estimate approximately 80 disabled Canadians have had their training deferred due to the pandemic. Officials said the school is offering virtual support to its existing clients and looks forward to the day when it can “create more life-changing matches for people with disabilities.”

Pandemic-related setbacks also abound at Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, an Ottawa-area training facility that cancelled all in-person classes at the end of March when public health-related lockdowns took effect across the country.

Manager of Development Alex Ivic said the school has had to explore alternatives to replace the residential model at the heart of its usual training program. Local clients, for instance, began receiving home-based training in May.

Ivic said the campus reopened to students last month, though only one person at a time is allowed to occupy the residence.

“The pandemic gave us new challenges,” Ivic said. “We had to push everything back and the wait times for those waiting for a dog are variable.”

Moxley anticipates additional struggles when she’s finally cleared to train with a new dog, saying COVID-19-related restrictions make the prospect of travelling from Victoria to Oakville daunting and possibly risky.

Canada’s service animal training schools don’t generally receive government support, relying instead on charitable donations to stay afloat. Both the Lions school and Canadian Guide Dogs for the blind said the financial squeeze caused by the pandemic adds another dimension to their struggles to keep going during a time of upheaval.

But Ivic, for one, remains optimistic, saying schools are committed to matching successful service dog teams while preserving the health of all concerned.

“I hope things will go back to normal one day to train multiple clients at once,” he said. ”I know there will be changes in our protocols to keep people safe,” Ivic said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2020.

Osobe Waberi, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Alisha Bryan holds a handful of poppy sticks at the poppy laying ceremony on Oct. 28. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Remembrance Day will look a little different this year for Lacombe

The Lacombe Legion is taking COVID-19 precautions for people who want to pay their respects.

Chad Carlson (left) Jarita Carlson and their two children Milo Carlson (left) and Lennon Carlson are dressing up as Ghostbusters for Halloween. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Lacombe family passionate about Halloween and giving back to their community

COVID-19 has changed how the Carlson’s will celebrate Halloween this year

The Lacombe Legion volunteers laid poppies beside the graves of veterans on Oct. 28. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Lacombe Legion volunteers lay poppies for fallen veterans

Twenty volunteers showed up on Wednesday to pay their respects and help out

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Most Read