The ride for guides

Prince Albert Lions Club president Garry Beaudry (second from left) presents a cheque for $250 to Ed Grassie (centre) who accepted on behalf of the Lions Club Ride for Dog Guides (Jason Kerr/Daily Herald).

The conditions aren’t ideal for Tom Armstrong and his fellow motorcycle enthusiasts.

The sky is cloudy and the wind snaps, but even without that, the layer of smoke drifting across Prince Albert is enough to put a damper on the day. They already have a few hours of riding under their belts, and they have to make it to Martensville for supper. Still, Armstrong has a big grin on his face, and his compatriots are eager to continue.

“We may not get a lot of riders, but when I plan a ride, I’m riding it and I don’t care if it’s raining,” Armstrong says. Then he pauses.

“I do care if it’s snowing,” he adds with a chuckle.

Fortunately, the weather report for Saturday, Aug. 11 isn’t that bad. The smoke and threat of rain haven’t deterred the group before, and it doesn’t look like it will this time either.

They’ve been making trips like this through northern Saskatchewan since 2012 as part of the Lions Club Ride for Dog Guides. He has a bank of 23 riders he contacts to make the trip with the goal of raising money for the Lions Foundation of Canada dog guide program.

“It’s very seldom you get them all (riding at once), but their hearts are in the right place,” Armstrong says. “All you’ve got to do is see a service dog in action and you know exactly why we’re doing this.”

Lions Foundation guide dogs are bred and trained in Oakville, Ont., and they aren’t cheap. The most common types, like canine vision dogs that aid people who are blind or visually impaired, cost around $6,000 to fully train. Other types, like autism assistance dogs, can cost up to $30,000. The foundation provides them free to qualified applicants.

Armstrong, who hails from Saskatoon, is always happy to support the program, and he always finds eager allies when he rides north.

“The P.A. Lions, they’ve been supporting this since day one,” he says.

Lions Foundation of Canada North Saskatchewan representative Tom Armstrong (left) and his group of four riders prepare to leave Prince Albert on Saturday, Aug. 11. Armstrong and others have made the trip every year since 2012 (Jason Kerr/Daily Herald).

The Prince Albert Lions Club knows just how pricey these dogs can be. At one point they raised $20,000 just so one Prince Albert resident with cerebral palsy could have a Services Guide Dog.

Club president Garry Beaudry says providing service dogs is a big part of the organization’s mission, and one that’s constantly full of surprises.

“We’ve had the opportunity to meet some of these dogs when they’ve been trained and it’s phenomenal what they can do to help people,” he says.

Beaudry isn’t just speaking as club president. He’s seen how these dogs can help his own family members. His son has cerebral palsy, and when a Lions Club member brought a service dog to a raffle sale, there was an instant positive effect.

“We had the one dog that was going back to the foundation because their owner had passed and (Lions Club member Jim Wilm) had the dog here in town and we happened to be selling tickets or something,” Beaudry remembers. “We pulled up and the dog was sitting there and he got up, moved away from Jim, went around and sat down beside the chair and never moved…. It was fantastic to watch and it made it more real to us, because we had just sponsored a dog shortly before that.”

Beaudry and other Lions club members were on hand to provide more support for the program on Saturday. The left Armstrong and his riders with a $250 cheque for the dog guide training program, and a full belly after a local business chipped in to provide lunch.

Afterwards, it’s back to the smoke-filled open road.

“We don’t cancel,” Armstrong says with a smile. “I’ll get calls from clubs along the line asking if we’re still coming. Yeah, we’re coming.”