Kingston Welcomes GDUC

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Guide Dog Users of Canada's 16th Annual General Meeting and Conference took place on September 18 and 19 at the Ambassador Hotel in Kingston, Ontario. The AGM Committee did a great job getting the weekend organized helping to ensure that a great time would be had by all!

The event started with an optional late Friday afternoon social activity. In what was almost certainly a first, the museum of Health Care opened its doors to 16 guide dog teams and several volunteers. All who participated enjoyed themselves, and came away having learned something new. We were invited to touch many antique medical items including an early version of the stethoscope and dentures from the late 18th century hand crafted out of ivory.

Aunt Lucy's was Friday evening's spot for dinner, and what a treat it was! We dined in a private room where everyone mingled. There was also someone playing the piano for background music. The food was excellent and there was a variety to choose from on the menu.

Saturday's festivities began early with breakfast at the hotel, and then it was down to business. Sophie Kiwala, M.P.P. for Kingston and the Islands, welcomed us to Kingston, and made opening remarks. Ms. Kiwala shared something of herself, and left many of us with the feeling that we have a valuable supporter in the Ontario Legislature.

All work and no play would make GDUC a very dull organization indeed. So, we lightened up by conducting door prize draws during coffee breaks and lunch. There were two tables piled high with prizes, and we're reasonably sure that everyone came home with at least a little something. Thanks to everyone who played a part in obtaining door prizes.

Saturday afternoon's workshop on assistance dogs was the highlight of the Conference for many of us. Three assistance dog handlers, Matthew with diabetic alert dog Zoe, Louise with mobility support dog Bruce, and Shirley with PTSD assistance dog Katie made up the panel along with three trainers, Lisa-Marie, Caroline, and Alex. The handlers explained in intimate detail how there dogs were making a positive difference in their lives, and the trainers provided valuable insight as to how these dogs are taught to perform their important duties. There followed an opportunity for GDUC members to ask questions of the panel, and vice versa. At one point Lisa-Marie came right out and asked us if we were united by the common bond of being handlers, and the answer was a resounding "yes".

It is definitely in our best interest to stand together with our colleagues who are partnered with assistance dogs. We all must deal with common issues like the increased prevalence of fake service dogs, the development of standards for the training/certification of assistance dogs, access refusals, and the fundamental need to educate the public about what it is like to live and work with a guide or assistance dog. There's strength in numbers, and working together is the best way we know of to bring about positive change.

GDUC is fortunate to have had the support of five guide dog schools. A big thanks to Guiding Eyes For The Blind, Guide Dogs of America, Canadian Guide Dogs For The Blind, Leader Dogs For The Blind, and Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides for sending representatives to share information about their schools.

Immediately before closing remarks a raffle was held. The grand prize was a Victor Stream (New Generation) courtesy of HumanWare. This year's lucky winner was Patti Ellis who, in a spirit of generosity typical of this organization, publicly gave it to Greg Thompson and recognized him for his contributions over the past year.

Putting together an event of this magnitude requires many hands and lots of teamwork. Our capable contingent of volunteers were instrumental in providing directions, serving food, and helping out with whatever needed to be done. A huge thanks to all of you, and please know that we could not have pulled it off without your assistance and support.

The weekend gave us an opportunity to connect with old friends, and make new ones as well. Despite the rainy weather, many folks returned to Aunt Lucy's on Saturday evening for more good food and conversation. Some participants capped off the evening by visiting the hotel's water park.

Everyone said good-bye and went their separate ways on Sunday. We all look forward to next year's AGM which the new board is already starting to think about. If you have never joined us, we hope you will! Let's all try to bring someone new next year to increase attendance, and make the 2016 AGM our best ever.

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