Charles Mossop is ready to head out on a stroll with his new guide dog, Baker, named for a co-founder of the Canadian National institute for the Blind, Col. Edwin Baker. Baker is one of the first guide dogs to come out of the CNIB’s new guide dog program. — Adam Kveton Photo

Charles Mossop is ready to head out on a stroll with his new guide dog, Baker, named for a co-founder of the Canadian National institute for the Blind, Col. Edwin Baker. Baker is one of the first guide dogs to come out of the CNIB’s new guide dog program. — Adam Kveton Photo

Blind Parksville man learns to trust new four-legged partner

Canadian National Institute for the Blind introduces first group of guide dogs

Reaching a point where you trust anyone, much less a dog, with your life is a remarkably difficult accomplishment.

For Charles Mossop, a special level of trust grew exponentially while taking a walk during a training trip to Ottawa.

As he was about to enter a crosswalk, a bus entered his peripheral vision (the only vision he has left). His new guide dog, Baker, saw the danger and wouldn’t budge.

“Baker stopped dead, and I stopped as well,” he said.

“He’s been extremely well-trained.”

The Parksville resident is one of the six people across Canada who have been paired up with a guide dog out of a new Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) program.

Despite living with a degenerative form of sight loss since 18 years old, Baker is Mossop’s first guide dog.

“I feel very privileged to have a dog like that, and be entrusted with its care,” he said, adding that he feels the CNIB’s new program will make a big difference for Canadians with sight loss.

Though the CNIB first group of guide dogs was limited to six, spokeswoman Victoria Nolan said there are now 50 dogs going through the program. The CNIB hopes to match many more than that to owners every year, she said.

SIGHT LOSS

For most of his life, Mossop has known he’d be losing more and more of his vision.

He was diagnosed at the age of 19.

“Although I had noticed rather peculiar things happening to my eyesight when I was 18,” he said.

He has a particular form of macular degeneration that causes a progressive lost of central vision.

“It’s called Stargardt’s disease,” said Mossop. “I now only have a limited amount of peripheral vision left.”

Getting to this level of blindness isn’t always the case for those with Stargardt’s disease, but the condition doesn’t stop Mossop from being active.

After a career in post-secondary education and international development at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, Mossop said he’s failed at retirement, finding himself more busy than ever as a volunteer for the CNIB and as an international officer of the World Blind Union.

“That keeps me travelling,” he said.

Over the years, Mossop has relied on a mobility cane to get around, where the idea is to make contact with obstacles and other things with the cane to get a sense of what is where.

“With a dog of course, you don’t have to have that view of things because the dog is taking you around the object,” said Mossop. “The way I think of it really is that I navigate and the dog is the pilot.”

Mossop must of course know how to get where he’s going, though Baker will start to learn what Mossop wants and where he wants to go. Mossop can give commands like right and left, while Baker deals with the details of getting around things.

When Mossop approaches a crosswalk, he can ask Baker to direct him to the crosswalk button, but Mossop must decide when it’s safe to cross, based on his limited vision, what he can hear and his other senses.

Baker, however, can choose not to move if he sees that it’s dangerous.

To get used to this knew way of getting around the world, Mossop has had many training sessions with the CNIB, both at their headquarters in Ottawa and closer to home.

“It’s really quite a remarkable experience to go through this training and find that you have a brilliantly trained partner who is actually capable of looking out for you and steering you around objects and all that sort of thing,” said Mossop.

Perhaps the biggest change Baker is making to Mossop’s mobility comes in the dark.

“One of the features of Stargardt’s disease is the almost complete loss of night vision. Can’t see a thing at night,” said Mossop. “If there are lights, they just glare. They don’t light anything up for me.”

But one of the first things he did with a guide dog back in September during a trial for the program, was a night walk.

“I could be guided and walk in conditions of low light or darkness, when really I have almost no vision at all, and the idea that I would now be able to do that, if I needed to, independently, was really quite striking,” said Mossop.

NEW PROGRAM

He anticipates the CNIB’s guide dog program will have an important effect on Canada’s blind and partially sighted people, many of whom can’t find employment because of their lack of eyesight.

While there are other guide dog programs available, more and more of those also train dogs for people with PTSD or with other trauma. All are worthwhile causes, but it means there are longer and longer wait times for guide dogs.

That’s what the CNIB found as well.

With the foundation recently celebrating its first 100 years, research into adjusting focus found that significant wait times were a barrier for people.

“We just assumed that people get their guide dogs, they have different choices, some people get them in Canada, some people get them in the States, but we thought everything was running smoothly,” said Nolan. “And then when we did the research, and there is a significant waiting list for these schools. So there’s definitely room for more guide dog schools in Canada.”

The CNIB’s program began 18 months ago, with the dogs first being sourced from a particular breeder in Australia who specializes in producing service dogs.

For the first year, the dogs stay with a family who volunteers to raise the dogs and teach them basic obedience skills. The dogs are also exposed to a variety of environments, as they must be calm and able to focus no matter where they go.

Then the dogs are trained to be guide dogs for about six months.

Baker is now 23 months old, and though he acts like a normal, friendly puppy indoors, once his harness is on, he’s all business, said Mossop.

The CNIB’s program is free for the people who are paired up with the dogs, said Nolan, with all expenses being paid for through donations to the CNIB.

Though these first six dogs have been matched with owners from Nova Scotia to B.C., applications for a guide dog will be open in the new year. Long-term, Nolan said the CNIB hopes to match 100 people with guide dogs every year.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File photo)
Case of COVID-19 confirmed in School District 69 (Qualicum)

Individual was at PASS/Woodwinds, with a last date of attendance of Jan. 22

The Qualicum Beach Cafe team: from left, host owner Eli Brennan, general manager Amy Turner, host owner/chef Alan Tse, chef de cuisine Todd Bright, sous chef Jack Mitchell and pastry chef/baker Noemie Girard. (Submitted photo)
Fresh start: Qualicum Beach Cafe set to offer West Coast dining

New operators bring wealth of culinary, hospitality experience

Professional hockey goalie Connor LaCouvee of Qualicum Beach. (PQB News file photo)
Qualicum Beach goalie Connor LaCouvee joins AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners

Backstop returns to North America after stint in Slovakia

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Most Read