‘You don’t feel isolated’: Guide dog helps woman with MS through the pandemic

A Calgary woman living with multiple sclerosis says her guide dog played a crucial role throughout the pandemic, going above and beyond her normal tasks.

Lana Cicko was diagnosed with the disease in 2008. Because her condition doesn’t allow her to walk, she is bound to a wheelchair and relies on the services of her guide dog Pride to get through the day; including picking up the remote control, helping with laundry or opening the fridge.

“Just about anything a human will do except she won’t argue with me. She’s happy to do it for the cookie,” said Cicko.

“Actually, she volunteers to do work for the cookie.”

Read more: All aboard! Guide dogs in training team up with Calgary Transit

The two were paired up in December 2019 after her previous guide dog of nine years retired from the program, just months before the pandemic was declared.

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Cicko said having Pride during the lockdowns gave her more of a sense of companionship.

“Having her there was just so you don’t feel isolated, you don’t feel lonely, at least you have your dog there,” Cicko said.

“Even sometimes, I don’t necessarily need her to perform a task but just knowing that she’s there makes a huge difference.”

Read more: Edmonton man sleeping in homemade igloo to raise funds for MS research

While the guide dogs are completely free for clients, after specialized training they come with a hefty $35,000 price tag.

Walks like the Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides held on Sunday at Bowness Park help fund the training of the dogs across Canada through donations and community partners including the Lions Club.

“The Lions Clubs are a really, really incredible organization and they may not be here physically but they’re behind us every step of the way,” said Robin Roots with the Calgary and Area Walk for Dog Guides, who is also a member of the club.

“I can feel the support of every lion behind me in everything that I do and they are incredibly generous, the lions are just an incredibly generous organization. They don’t have their name splashed all over everything but they’re the reason the dog guides exists.”

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Since 2005, the event’s title sponsor Pet Valu has put nearly 200 dogs through guide dog training and into the hands of Canadians across the country. Almost two dozen of those dogs now reside in Calgary. The sponsor acknowledges the canines can be costly.

“But it’s an important area to give,” said Pet Valu franchisee Darey Frey.

“We really appreciate the opportunity to support the terrific program, terrific organization and so the walk here is just part of that, getting out here and getting involved with the community and for people with the real need.

This year, organizers hope to raised $1.3 million to bring dogs like Pride into the lives of those who need them the most.

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