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Guide Dogging Through the Past 20 Years

Editor's Note: Devon Wilkins is a member of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians now living in Peterborough, Ontario. She is also President of Guide Dog Users of Canada.

Until the early 1980s, virtually every guide dog that walked the streets of Canada was American born. Then, almost simultaneously, three centres were established here: Fondation Mira in Sainte-Madeleine near Montreal, Quebec (1981); The Lions Foundation of Canada in Oakville, Ontario (1983); and Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind in Manotick near Ottawa, Ontario (1984). In the early 1990s, both British Columbia Guide Dog Services, and a school in Edmonton, Alberta, which has undergone several name changes, were also founded.

Shortly after guide dog schools began appearing in Canada, the Canadian Association of Guide Dog Users (CAGDU) was incorporated. But when Mary Spice, its first and only President, passed away, the consumer group slipped into obscurity.

When the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) was founded in 1992, guide dog users finally had somewhere to turn for assistance with individual advocacy. In 1997, Richard Marion, then AEBC 2nd Vice President, took a Calgary, Alberta, taxi company to court for refusing access to his guide dog. There was also attorney Yvonne Peters, who took the Government of Saskatchewan all the way to the Supreme Court to gain public access for people partnered with guide dogs. AEBC even lent support to the American Council of the Blind’s lawsuit against the State of Hawaii, seeking a relaxation of its quarantine rules for guide dogs.

In August of 1999, Guide Dog Users of Canada (GDUC) rose like a phoenix out of CAGDU’s ashes. In the early 2000s, AEBC and GDUC worked with blind individuals and blindness organizations from around the world to pressure the British government to relax its quarantine restrictions for people partnered with guide, hearing and service dogs.

As the current President of GDUC, and a member of AEBC, I’m proud to say that Since GDUC’s inception, we’ve always been able to count on AEBC whenever push comes to shove. After all, we have one common goal--the enhancement of rights for Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.