April 12th, 2024

Blind girl raising money to train guide dogs


By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on October 28, 2023.

Herald photo by Steffanie Costigan Laura Rushforth at the Free Your Soul market raises money for training service dogs in Canada.

A blind 16-year-old girl is raising awareness for the need to train more service dogs in Canada.

Laura Rushforth was only seven years old when she lost sight due to a brain tumour.

Laura’s mother Jennifer Rushforth said recently that right after Laura had brain surgery, she started asking for a service dog.

“When she woke up from brain surgery, she remembered that blind people because she couldn’t see, get a special dog. And that’s when she started looking at ‘when do I get my dog.’ A couple months later, when she turned eight, we started working with the mobility specialist to work with her. And she asked the mobility specialist, ‘How do I get a guide dog?'” said Rushforth.

Laura said eight years ago she began learning how to make her crafts that she sells at markets through a sense of feeling.

“After I lost my sight, I was trying to figure out a way to still do the things I enjoyed. But with the lack of vision that ended up (making) me end up doing it all through a sense of feeling. I had a good chunk of time in the hospital. I just kept creating, creating and creating.”

Laura added when she asked questions she discovered more about guide dogs and their lack of availability in Canada.

“I also wanted a guide dog and wanted to learn more about guide dogs. So I asked around, and I found out they cost thousands of dollars just to train,” said Laura.

Rushforth explained she and her daughter learned there was a shortage of service dogs in Canada due to COVID and not enough resources to fund trainers.

“We found out that there’s a national shortage. Most Canadians go to the U.S.… I know of people who have received guide dogs from the Lion’s Club. It’s a guide dog program through either the Lions or something similar, or also BC Alberta Guide Dogs,” said Jennifer.

“When Laura found out there was a shortage back in 2015, she started raising money for guide dogs and she’s raised over at least $10,000 on her own,” said Rushforth.

Laura currently still has not received a guide dog due to the shortage, however an employee of CNIB has contacted Laura informing her she’ll receive one next summer.

“This past summer he called us saying ‘I don’t have a dog for you this year,’ but I’ve guaranteed one for next summer. So now I’m crossing my fingers that he comes through with a guide dog for me,” shared Laura.

Rushforth described the shortage in service dogs as a challenge but COVID made it harder due to several factors, one being guide dogs in homes were needing to be replaced.

“Because the guide dogs (are low in) numbers and it’s not their fault, it’s just the graduation rates are lower, they’re not able to place as many dogs.

“And because of COVID, a lot of people who are blind or working with guide dogs needed to have theirs replaced early because they weren’t being used on an everyday capacity,” said Jennifer.

Laura explained there is a low success rate of service dogs passing training.

She said the dogs that don’t pass end up working with veterans or autistic children.

Rushforth recommends those interested in donating could donate to BC and Alberta Guide Dogs.

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