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How one man got a new leash on life

The story of a man and his very, very good dog.
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Fred Heyduk with his service dog, Trump. The two were matched more than nine years ago. Erika Engel/Collingwood Today

After a motorcycle accident put Fred Heyduk in a coma and left him with a severe brain injury, he struggled with daily life. He was trapped indoors by fear and physical pain.

He is alive again, and he credits only one with his return.

“Trump gave me my life back,” said Heyduk.

Trump is an 11 year-old golden retriever with big black eyes, a curly blonde coat and a white face. He’s a dog with a job, and he wears the familiar red harness of a service dog bred, raised and trained by the Lion’s Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.

Trump’s duties include opening and closing doors, helping Heyduk in and out of bed, helping him up if he falls, and fetching help if it’s needed.

Though he wasn’t trained as a diabetic alert dog, Trump has also let Heyduk know when his sugars were getting low. Trump can detect when Heyduk’s blood sugar level has dropped to about a five. Heyduk can’t feel a sugar low until the level reaches about three.

He discovered Trump’s hidden talent by accident. The doting service dog nudged and pushed Heyduk continuously one day while they were away from home. Heyduk’s wife, Michelle, suggested he check his sugar level. Sure enough, the level was about five. As soon as Heyduk started eating, Trump settled down beside him.

Since the accident, Heyduk’s balance hasn’t been strong. His back is fused and he uses a motorized wheelchair or a crutch to get around. When he falls, it’s only Trump who knows how to help him back up again.

Part of Trump’s role has also been to pull Heyduk out from the dark places of PTSD.

“Before Trump, I was afraid all the time,” Heyduk said. “I can’t remember things, so I have to pause and repeat them to myself out loud. People would look at me strange. Now I add Trump’s name and it’s like I’m talking to him.”

Heyduk has regained independence. He can run errands and travel thanks to the service dog constantly by his side. He and his wife live in Wasaga Beach with Trump. 

Heyduk has undergone 42 operations since his brain injury. He struggles with mobility and dexterity and it can sometimes cause extreme frustration as he tries to maneuver around in a new place.

It’s during those times that Trump will do something silly or cute to make Heyduk laugh.

“He seems to know when I’m frustrated, and he’ll do something goofy and just look at me as if to say ‘try it again.’”

In fact, laughter has been a big part of the service Trump has provided to Heyduck over the last nine years.

One time, Heyduk and Michelle lost track of who had Trump’s leash at the gate of the airplane they were boarding. The leash fell to the ground and Trump picked it up in his teeth to walk ahead. Once Heyduck arrived on the plane he asked about his dog. The pilot laughed and pointed to the cockpit where Trump was sitting in the captain’s chair. The airline made Trump an honourary crew member and mailed a dog tag to the Heyduk’s to make it official.

The bond Heyduk and Trump share has ensured Trump’s service as a dog guide goes above and beyond his training and the call of duty.

Though Trump is supposed to only help Heyduk, he will often pick up Michelle’s cane when she drops it. If he spots someone in a wheelchair, he’ll watch them for a while to check things out. He also likes to check on any babies in strollers.

“If you have a really strong bond with him, like I do, they help you in other ways too,” said Heyduk. “I don’t think of him as an animal, I think of him as my best friend and an extension of my body.”

In fact, most service dogs retire at 10 years-old, but Heyduk worked with Dog Guides to keep Trump a little longer. Maybe it’s Trump’s hard-working nature, or maybe it’s the special bond he shares with Heyduk that keeps him working hard and enjoying it.

The dogs are bred by the Foundation, they are brought to a foster home at eight weeks old and there they learn basic obedience and are socialized with people and other dogs and in public places for one year. After that, they receive specialized training for various vocations, which lasts from four to six months. Trump is a service dog, but there are also autism assistance dogs, canine vision dogs, seizure response dogs, hearing ear dogs and diabetic alert dogs available through the Lion’s Foundation of Canada Dog Guide Program.

When Heyduk first went to the Dog Guide facility to meet Trump, the trainers weren’t sure the match would work because Trump was heartbroken when he left his foster parents. But when Trump entered the room and his trainer dropped his leash, Trump picked it up between his teeth, walked over to Heyduk and gently dropped the leash into his lap. He had chosen his life-long assignment.

“They said we’d be fine,” Heyduk remembers. “If it hadn’t been for those half-dozen times Trump saved my life, I wouldn’t be here.”

The Heyduk’s are giving back in the best way they can, by organizing a local Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides in Collingwood. The walk takes place on May 27 starting with registration at 10 a.m. and the walk beginning at 11 a.m. The walk will begin at the Collingwood Museum on First Street and Heritage Drive and will be five kilometres long. Donations to the walk can be made online and pledge forms are also available online or by emailing or calling the Heyduks at 705-791-5762. Proceeds from the walk will go to the Lion’s Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.

The Foundation’s 2015/2016 report stated the organization matched 159 people with dog guides last year, which is the highest placement level yet. They’ve set a goal of 200 partnerships per year.

After breeding, puppy care, kennel care, veterinary care, training, supplies and ongoing support from the Dog Guide team, a dog guide can cost up to and more than $25,000. Through the Lion’s Foundation program, there’s no cost to the recipient of a dog guide.

The Walk for Dog Guides events across Canada raised $1.3 million and donations from Lion’s Clubs totalled more than $509,000 in 2016. Last year there were 300 walks across Canada and the walks have raised more than $15 million since 1985.

For more, visit the Walk for Dog Guides website.




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