PICTOU, N.S. - For Craig Aucoin, man’s best friend has a new name.
After a decade of having his loyal companion and service dog Baldwin by this side, Aucoin's yellow lab has retired.
“Baldwin was 10 years old and they usually retire at 11 years old,” he said. “He was slowing down and he wasn’t listening as great as he used to.”
Now Aucoin has a new companion in Walt, a much spunkier black lab that walks at a quicker pace and is still learning the routes that Aucoin walks on a regular basis.
“I definitely miss Baldwin,” said the Pictou resident, who is visually impaired. “By the end of it, Baldwin and I had about 20 different routes we would use. With this guy, we stay with the bare minimum now and do two or three main routes. We are usually downtown, the gym and the pool.”
Walt is three-and-a-half years old and has been living with Aucoin for about five weeks. Aucoin attended the Canadian Guide Dog School for the Blind in August to train with Walt for a few weeks before the dog came to live in Pictou.
“They called me out of the blue in July and said, ‘we think we have a dog here for you now.’ They said they thought he would be a great fit for me.”
Walt is Aucoin’s third guide dog and he has a lease agreement with the school that requires him to make sure Walt’s training continues, that the dog gets out for daily walks and Walt's weight stays at a good size.
He said training has been going well but there are some differences in urban living between Ontario and Pictou that Walt needs to go get used to.
“We live in the heights and there are no sidewalks here,” Aucoin said. “I say to him, ‘stick to the sidewalk,’ and he’s, like ‘what the hell?’ It is a challenge but he has been doing it the last few days and has stopped where he was supposed to.”
He said he does notice that Walt pays a little more attention to him then Baldwin has in the past few years.
“Baldwin would be like, ‘I see you sitting over there, you are good.’ This guy actually comes right over to me and puts his head on my knee and says. ‘I am here.’ He wants your attention. That is one of the things I really like about him.”
Walt also walks at a much quicker pace than his predecessor.
“When I was walking with Baldwin, by the end of it, he was slowing down and walking from my house to the gym would take about 20 minutes, but (with Walt) it is a 12- to 15-minute walk.”
Aucoin said there is plenty of play time, but when the dog's harness is on, Walt knows he is working and it is important that people see him as a service dog.
Aucoin said he has a sign that asks people not to pet Walt when he is working and feeding the dog human food is a definite no. Aucoin ran into this problem with Baldwin in the end, he said, and, if there was a garbage can that was head level, the dog would be attracted to it.
“Walt knows when he is working and when it is playtime,” he said. “When the harness and leash are on, he listens better.”