Found in Fairview March/April 2023

by Michelle Stensrud, Roving Reporter

Do you wear a uniform to work? I don’t (unless you count PJs as a uniform), but this month’s resident does. Meet Dexter, a hardworking puppy. He wears a yellow jacket to work every day. He works so hard because when he grows up, he wants to be a guide dog for the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind).

Dexter moved to Calgary from Australia. When he got here, he needed a place to stay. Very conveniently, the Eisenbart family (Dave, Melody, Oliver, Ryan, and Emily), who volunteers at the CNIB, were approached to be puppy raisers. This was a big decision for the family to make; they had lost their dog Oscar in July and weren’t ready for a new animal yet. Knowing that the commitment for them would only be 12 to 15 months, they agreed to take on Dexter’s training.

The program for training guide dogs is broken up into two different parts. For the first part, Dexter will live with the Eisenbarts, and for the second part, he will be sent off to Toronto to complete some more essentials. Melody told me the family has many things to teach Dexter over the next twelve months. Most importantly, he (and everyone) needs to know that when Dexter has his jacket on, he is working. That pretty much means you need to ignore him and he needs to ignore you. He cannot be distracted while he is working. If you see Dexter walking down the street, it’s best to walk on the other side of his person just to avoid the temptation of petting Dexter and distracting him from his work.

Dexter needs to learn so many things – sitting, waiting, standing, not rushing at the door, ignoring people when they first enter the house, restraining himself when he’s excited, and more. There is a lot of kibble treats and positive reinforcement involved in training him effectively. So far, it sounds like Dexter is all work and no play, but he does play every chance he gets! He is still a puppy and still loves to have fun! When he doesn’t have his jacket on, he likes to play chase, and he has some big squishy bone toys. He is discouraged from playing with balls just in case one shows up while he is working and he tries to chase it down.

Well, a few weeks ago I was at the University of Calgary and ran into Dexter in the racquetball courts. There were so many balls flying around, and he didn’t even look at them! Could your dog do that? It was amazing to see.

Training Dexter is basically a full-time job, except instead of getting paid in cash, you are paid in love and appreciation. Dexter himself, however, is paid in food, toys, leashes, trips to the vet – you name it. I know you are thinking “does Dexter really care about these pay days?” Likely not, but his foster family does and so will his forever family. The cost of all things for Dexter is covered by his sponsor, the people or corporation that supports the dog for the CNIB. They are the ones that get to name the dog too.

Before Dexter gets to work, he has to pass all his training. Once his foster mom, Melody, has spent the year with Dexter, he will graduate and move to Toronto. After another year of learning more specialised commands, Dexter will spend about two months interviewing and testing out different people to find his forever person.

Unlike our working years (which are too many!) Dexter will only work for about eight or nine years. When Dexter finally gets to retire, his owner will be the first person offered the option to keep him. If, for whatever reason, his person can’t keep him at his time of retirement, Melody and family will be asked if they’d like Dexter to come back and live with them.

Dexter’s life is mapped out and will certainly be full and exciting.

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