Therapy dogs sign off at Alzheimers Walk

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St. John’s Ambulance therapy dogs wear red, cape-like vests because they have canine super powers.Wherever they go, they effortlessly calm nerves and bring a smile to the face of lonely, troubled people.St. John’s therapy dogs have been working their magic in Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk for 20 years. Unfortunately, the annual Alzheimer’s Walk in Simcoe Thursday was their last official function. March 1, the local unit disbands.“No one is willing to take on the co-ordinator position, which is voluntary,” says retiring co-ordinator Judy Gilbert-Lindsay of La Salette.“Anyone who wants to continue with this will have to report to the Brant-Woodstock division. Sorry, but I’m near tears.”Gilbert-Lindsay has been involved with the therapy dog program for 10 years, five of those as co-ordinator. During that time, she has organized the appearances of nearly 30 members and their dogs.Gilbert-Lindsay and her partner Dave Nakonechny are stepping away because they are both retiring and their dogs are getting old. Amy, who looks like a golden retriever, has paid 1,855 official visits under the therapy dog banner.“It’s a shame, but there comes a time when you have to retire,” Nakonechny said. “The co-ordinator’s role is very involved.”Dozens of people at Thursday’s Alzheimer’s walk enjoyed the company of the therapy dogs while they still could. The turnout was good and proved to be another solid money-maker for the Alzheimer’s Society of Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk-Hamilton-Halton.Aileen Bradshaw, director of fundraising and communications, said the annual budget for the local chapter is about $240,000.The annual Alzheimer’s Walks in Simcoe, Caledonia and Dunnville account for 30 per cent of this budget. IG Wealth Management recently signed on as a major sponsor.“It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year,” Bradshaw said, adding Simcoe’s walk alone requires the services of 40 volunteers.Many people come out as a team to support a family member or friend who has been stricken with Alzheimer’s. “Eth’s Elves” are an example. Sisters of Ethel Leggett, of Port Dover, participate, as do several friends. Eth’s Elves raised $3,300.“We’re all members of the Port Dover Lionesses,” said Laura McKenzie of Port Dover. “Eth was one as well. We walk for her every year.”Leggett was diagnosed 14 years ago. Sister Sheila Greene of Port Dover said the family feels fortunate she has coped for so long. For her part, Leggett said she was having fun Thursday, adding she was a little overwhelmed by all the attention.The local Alzheimer’s Society is especially grateful to the Norfolk County Fair Board. The fair board donates the use of The Aud for this event, which started locally in 2004.“There is nowhere else in Norfolk County to do something like this,” Bradshaw said. “It is really ideal.”The local Alzheimer’s branch has connected with 1,500 clients, family members and care-givers. An estimated 2,100 people in Haldimand and Norfolk have moderate to severe dementia.MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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