Fostering dog guide a paws-itive experience for Cayuga family

Fostering dog guide a paws-itive experience for Cayuga family
CAYUGA—Future dog guide Aero is pictured with her foster family, the Potters, (l-r) Bruce, 6, Kelly, James, Clark, 8. —Haldimand Press photo by Sheila Phibbs.

By Sheila Phibbs

The Haldimand Press

CAYUGA/FISHERVILLE — The Fisherville Lions Club recently announced a donation of $12,000 to the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. The donation was made possible by their last two bottle drives, which received significant community support, and was inspired by Aero, the 15-month-old standard poodle currently being fostered by the Potter family of Cayuga.

Becoming a foster family to a dog guide is something Kelly Potter has long wanted to do. She explains, “I’ve always appreciated the important role of the human-animal bond and the support and freedom that dog guides can give their owners.”

Further to that she says, “I love puppies! I enjoy the basic training; it’s fun to see their personalities and teach them things.”

Aero joined the Potter family in May 2020 when she was seven weeks old. While Kelly is the main trainer, her husband, James, and their two sons, Clark and Bruce, play an important role in Aero’s development.

Basic training takes place in a variety of environments and includes sitting, walking, and learning appropriate behaviours for specific situations. Aero often wears a vest, which lets people know she is training as a future dog guide.

Kelly says, “I take her everywhere – walking in town, sitting at cross walks, the grocery store. She barked once in a store and was taught that was not acceptable.”

Outings have included malls, restaurants, and even the vaccine clinic. While being fostered, the dogs are not to be alone for more than three hours a day, so Aero goes to work with Kelly at a vet clinic in Caledonia.

Kelly acknowledges, “I couldn’t be a part of the program if I couldn’t do that. She’s won everyone over at work.”

Important training also takes place at home where the whole family gets involved. Kelly says, “A big part of raising Aero was our children – it teaches respect of the dogs and helps with socialization.”

Socialization is critical as Aero must remain calm to be a successful dog guide. Kelly explains, “Teaching them to be calm is a big part of the training. She can’t be jumping on people – poodles love people and want to say hi.”

While at home, Aero is not allowed on furniture and cannot have human foods. She is crate trained and the family agrees that she has been a great puppy to work with. She interacts well with the other animals, including the Potters’ three dogs. James says, “She doesn’t even move when the other dogs get their food in the morning.”

As a foster family, the Potters receive guidance and support from the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides (LFCDG), which is based in Oakville. Dog food and vaccines are supplied with minimal expense to the family. Training is also provided, though most of it has been online using Zoom due to COVID. Kelly says, “I’m learning too – there’s a lot of information through emails and Zoom.” She is looking forward to an in-person training session that she and Aero are attending later this month.

Dogs like Aero are usually recalled back to the LFCDG when they are 12 to 18 months old (pre-Covid standards). Maria Galindo of the LFCDG explains that, after dogs are recalled, “They are trained by LFCDG instructors to learn the specialized skill used in one of the seven programs.” Those programs include Canine Vision, Hearing, Service, Seizure Response, Autism Assistance, Diabetic Alert, and Facility Support.

As the Potters continue their work as a LFCDG foster family, they are aware that there are many reasons that a dog can be disqualified. Aero will be assessed when she is recalled and the Potters are hopeful that she does well. The family will be kept up to date on Aero’s progress and Kelly says they will be invited to her formal graduation.

The Potters value the time they have spent fostering Aero. Kelly describes it as “a family thing” and says, “When she goes back, we’d take another one.” With foster families like the Potters and the ongoing support of Fisherville and other Lions Clubs, the LFCDG can continue “providing dog guides to Canadians with disabilities.” For Kelly Potter the benefit is clear as she says, “The program helps people get out in the world.”

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