Dozens take part in walk for guide dogs in Orillia

It was a perfect fall forecast Sunday as dozens turned out in Orillia for a walk to raise funds for guide dogs across Canada.

The annual Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides started at Couchiching Park in Orillia Sunday morning. Participants united with a shared goal of bringing in funds for the Lions Foundation of Canada to help cover the costs of raising and training dog guides.

"The end goal is to raise enough money and awareness for people across Canada and in Orillia…to show them that these dogs are needed," says Laura Joyce, the organizer of Orillia's walk who herself uses a guide dog. "This provides independence and peace of mind and just to make sure that we as different-labelled Canadians, I'm speaking for myself, that we have these dogs to make our life better, brighter and can work alongside our non-accessibility challenged colleagues."

Joyce has been a part of the run for more than a decade. She stresses its importance in benefiting the Lions Foundation of Canada, which does not receive any government funding. She says access to guide dogs has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"A lot of Canadians went to the other side of the 49th parallel, the United States, and with all the travel restrictions they aren't able to get a dog in the states right now, so more, and more need has been required of the Lions Foundation of Canada because there's more and more people staying in Canada to get their service dog," says Joyce.

According to Joyce, the average cost to train a single guide dog is $35,000. The event typically brings in up to $7,000 annually. For Erin O'Reilly, the owner of Orillia's Pet Valu, the event's significance and importance is evident based on how it has helped Laura Joyce.

"Hers is a seeing-eye dog, so it gave her her life back," says O'Reilly. "She's able to go around town, she's able to do normal things, and that was exciting. So to be a part of that and being able to help another person is great!"

For information on how you can help, click here.