Skip to content

'We're a team': Timmins woman's guide dog experience highlights love and support

Lions Foundation of Canada Guide Dogs is hoping that they can help more people access service dogs
Julie Lemieux and her hearing guide dog Wrigley have been inseparable since Oct. 2023.

“She helps me and I take care of her.”

That’s what Julie Lemieux says about her hearing guide dog, Wrigley. Every morning, Wrigley wakes the Timmins woman up and alerts her to anyone calling her name or any other sounds Lemieux needs to know about.

“She’s my ear when I need her,” she said. “We’re a team!”

Guide dog services are a life-changing experience but there can be barriers like cost, Maria Galindo, Lions Foundation Of Canada Dog Guides communication manager said. She said her organization is focused on making sure those barriers come down.

“Our mission is to train these dogs and provide them for people,” she said. "Accessibility is key."

Lemieux has cerebral palsy and profound hearing loss. Wrigley is her second service dog, but Wrigley’s job is different from her first partner. For six years, Juliet, a black lab service guide dog, helped Lemieux with things like closing doors, pressing buttons and fetching objects.

She found herself facing a decision when Juliet passed away. Lemieux’s needs had changed.

“I took the hearing program this time because my hearing got worse,” said Lemieux. “The two programs are different and they were challenging.”

In October 2023, Wrigley and Lemieux were matched. 

“I was trained how to work with her, and she’s trained to work with me,” she said. “It’s all positive.”

Service dogs like Wrigley can be an expensive investment, and organizations like the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides are trying to make this an option for those who need it.

The organization offers seven programs for dogs with different specialties including hearing, service, vision, seizure response, diabetes alert and autism assistance. There is also a training program for support dogs at hospitals and other organizations, especially those on the front lines with traumatic events.

Galindo compared the process of finding the right dog for each client as similar to a dating service.

“It’s really personalized, so the instructors will go back to their list and say, okay, do I have any dog that matches this person, and that means personality, activity level, are they more of a home-body or do they really like going out,” she said. “You’re matching for love, almost, because you’re building a partnership that’s really unique.”

Recently there have been human rights issues facing people using service dogs in Ontario.

An Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (OHRT) recently ruled in favour of a Sudbury woman who was denied guide dog benefit funding due to her dog not meeting the training requirements laid out by the province. The ruling said the province’s policy was discriminatory and created barriers for disabled people who require service animals.

The OHRT also ruled that National Service Dogs did not discriminate after removing a service dog from a Mississauga home for the well-being of the animal. The dog had gained a significant amount of weight but appeared to lose weight suddenly as a result of changes to his diet. When he also developed hip and shoulder injuries and a degenerative condition of his spine, the organization removed the dog in March 2022 for the welfare of the animal.

RELATED: Service dog removed from Ontario home because it got too fat

Galindo said the province needs to make clear decisions on what does and does not fit into their policy.

“There’s no federal law regarding service animals right now, every province has the capability to make their own laws, and Ontario is very much in the grey zone. It doesn’t specifically say what truly certifies a service dog,” she said. “We’re hoping that government officials implement laws that are more clear because that is what we struggle with the most right now, it’s accessibility.”

The breeding and training of these dogs is an expensive venture. Each dog costs around $35,000, but Galindo said they do everything they can to make sure the cost won’t impact the people who need this support. Lions Foundation of Canada Guide Dogs train and provide between 100 and 150 dogs a year.

“It’s really tough, and it’s not meant for every dog,” she said. “It gets really expensive and we receive no government funding.”

Lemieux said the help with costs made things easier when she travelled to finish Wrigley’s training.

“When you go, they provide housing, you stay at the school, they provide your meals, they provide for travel,” she said.

While there is not an event happening in Timmins, walks to support the Lions Foundation of Canada Guide Dogs work are happening in Sudbury, North Bay, Elliot Lake, Kenora and Sault Ste. Marie and across the country.

The organization is accepting donations on the Pet Valu Walk for Guide Dogs website to fund the guide dog program. Their fundraising goal is $1.6 million.


Amanda Rabski-McColl, LJI Reporter

About the Author: Amanda Rabski-McColl, LJI Reporter

Amanda Rabski-McColl is a Diversity Reporter under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
Read more