I came across this press release about the CNIB starting up a guide dog program, and I was sceptical, to be generous. To be more accurate, I checked my calendar to verify that it wasn’t April 1, because I was sure this was some kind of elaborate joke. But after I saw this video, the idea sank in that this was no joke.
The CNIB is starting a guide dog program.
That is the Reader’s Digest condensed version of what is probably going to turn into a very long post.
I will start off saying that I truly do have more questions than answers. All I have at this point are the links above, my own experience dealing with the CNIB and its ever-shrinking ability to serve its clients, and the rudamentary understanding of what it takes to run a guide dog school from what I have learned over my years of having guide dogs, so I have much to learn. But as I watched the video and read the press release, the one question I kept asking was “how can they pull this off?”
For those who don’t know, the CNIB, year over year, has been making cuts to what they offer to clients, as well as having less staff serve more people across a larger coverage area. I don’t have links to support this, but I have observed it first-hand.
The CNIB offices used to have stores where you could buy technical aids. Now, all the technical aids are sold out of Toronto.
These offices used to be open most weekdays. Now, at least in Waterloo, the public can only come in on set hours on certain days.
It is extremely difficult to get orientation and mobility services, that means lessons on how to get around a certain area. I discovered nearly five years ago when I moved here that it is even difficult to get these services when I am new to an area, thus don’t know where anything is at all and am starting from 0. To illustrate this, when I moved here, I told them I was going to move a couple of months before I moved, and I only took part-time hours to make myself as available as possible, and even doing that, I could not be seen for nearly a month. I improvised my own orientation and mobility instructors, my friends and colleagues.
If you break your cane, don’t expect someone from the CNIB to be able to get you a new one in a timely manner, even if you live in a town with an office. It has taken anywhere from two weeks to a month. Once, when Steve’s cane string snapped, I took it to a place that fixes tent poles to see if they could fix it rather than wait for the CNIB. It was another 3 weeks after our tent pole store trip before a proper new cane showed up. A white cane is pretty much the way we get around if we don’t have a dog, so we can’t exactly twittle our thumbs and wait.
I gave up on asking the CNIB for driving assistance after a conversation I had 13 years ago when I needed to go out of town for a medical appointment and had no other way to get there. I was flat out told that they don’t do that anymore.
I haven’t asked for independent living skills help, that is teaching someone how to cook and clean and do laundry and do all those surviving on your own in the world type things, because I was lucky enough to receive it when I was younger and the CNIB had more resources, but I would be shocked if the state of affairs was much better there.
It is not because the staff who teach these things are unwilling to help. It is because they are expected to see countless clients over an impossible area. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, or trained personnel in the region.
So, now that I’ve utterly buried the poor CNIB, let’s talk about what goes into a good guide dog school.
A good guide dog school should:
- Have a robust breeding program. Let’s use GDB’s as an example.
- Support a large network of puppy raisers that do all the early housebreaking, obedience training and socialization work.
- Have a good roster of trainers for both the dogs and the humans. Training each guide dog can cost well into the five figures.
- Have enough people available to assess, in person or otherwise, applicants to see if a guide dog would be suitable for them, and if so, what their needs will be.
- Have a well-maintained facility for the dogs in training to live, eat, sleep and play while they learn these hard guide work skills.
- Have a well-maintained facility for the humans in training to eat, sleep and live while they learn this whole new way of traveling.
- Have more than enough dogs available during any given class in case a match doesn’t work out for whatever reason and they need to switch.
- Provide solid lifetime support for graduates once the training is complete. This could include veterinary advice, guidance on working issues and advocacy, accommodating the possible need for a visit in their community, financial support in the event of a veterinary crisis, and support for the dog in retirement.
*flop* I’m exhausted.
Now, given that list, which may be missing some things since I jotted it down in a hurry, I ask you again. How can the CNIB in the condition I described above possibly take on an initiative of this size and scope. They want to serve the entire country, yet staff in a given city can’t help the clients within that city!
Hmm. Maybe this is how.
HIRED SIGHTED CNIB BEGGARS!!! So, On Friday, while walking north-bound on Yonge Street to the Marriott to attend the…
I really really hope not, because that’s straight up bush league.
And what happens if whatever funding source they have found dries up? What happens to any graduates of the program? What do they do then? Is CNIB going to cut services completely, or are they going to cut so many corners that it becomes dangerous? They have demonstrated that they don’t mind cutting corners in their other services, what’s different here?
I have so many more questions, many of them requiring more digging and inquiring, but I wanted to post my initial reaction.
I really don’t want to shut down their good intentions, in fact I want them, if they are truly serious about this, to do well. It would be awesome to have another Canadian option, especially one boasting this amount of flexibility. But right now, they don’t have my trust, and I am not alone in this. Everyone I’ve talked with who has had direct involvement with the CNIB has reacted the same way.