At just over three months, Mia is one smart puppy. She stops at every curb and door she comes across and is now learning to do the same for escalators.
On a sunny Tuesday morning, Mia weaves through a precariously designed obstacle of cones, baby gates, tissues, balls and other natural street distractions during her B.C. Guide Dogs class in the lacrosse box of Topaz Park.
It’s the life of a guide dog in training, but when it’s play time, there’s no mistaking Mia as just another playful pup, jumping and rolling with the rest of her class.
“It’s all work on the leash and play time can only be off-lead, when we allow it,” says Pierre Gagne, one half of Mia’s puppy raising team along with partner Marlene Homan.
Gagne is self-employed and works from his Victoria home, which make him and Homan ideal candidates.
It’s their first time raising a puppy for the B.C. Guide Dogs and the organization is looking for more puppy raisers in the Greater Victoria area as three litters become available for both September and October.
Retired couples are often best-suited, or those people in a position such as Gagne, says local puppy raising supervisor Laura Mahoney.
Classes are outside at Topaz but Mahoney is hoping to move indoors if the space is made available through a willing donor.
“We’ve been outside for 10 years, which is just fine during the beautiful summer days we’re having, but year round is tough,” says Mahoney.
Other cities are able to use donated facility time, such as in churches, but with a limited budget, the local B.C. Guide Dogs chapter will remain outside for the foreseeable future.
As for the puppies, they’re placed with ideal candidates for puppy raising at seven weeks old and live with the puppy raiser up to 18 months. The dogs are actually bred by B.C. Guide Dogs in Delta, a cross between lab and retriever. They graduate through a series of programs and ideally become a guide dog for vision impairment. Should the animals fall short of the rigid requirements, they are still highly capable and are placed with the family of someone with autism.
Anyone interested in applying as a puppy raiser can contact Laura Mahoney at 250-413-3095 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.