Katie Hewgill's special skills dog Effie helps yank her socks off at night.
The specially-trained yellow Labrador can also open the fridge and fetch water, help her make her bed, pick up objects off the ground, and bark for help in an emergency.
Hewgill got paired up with Effie because she has multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and scoliosis.
She wasn’t able to walk until she was 5 or 6. Even after 13 corrective surgeries, she needs a wheelchair to travel long distances, has trouble with some physical tasks, and is at an increased risk of breaking bones if she falls.
When Hewgill was in high school a doctor told her parents she might benefit form the assistance of a service dog.
After a couple years on a waiting list she received one from The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides — an organization that breeds, raises, and trains guides dogs at facilities in Southern Ontario.
The company also tries to match dogs to the personality of the owner, said Hewgill’s mom Mary Hewgill, and Effie was chosen because both she and Katie are ‘soft and gentle’.
When Katie got Effie she was studying business administration at Sault College.
“They thought it was pretty cool ... When I dropped a pen or something, I’d say ‘Effie fetch’ and everybody was shocked,” she said.
Effie was beside Katie as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma at graduation.
“(Effie) has brought Katie a lot more independence,” said her mom Mary Hewgill. “Before she wouldn’t even go to the end of the street because she was too nervous. Now you’ll see her in and out of the community… The dog is right beside her, scootin’ up the side walk. A lot of people will honk because they know Effie.”
The Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides trains dogs in various ways to assist the blind, the hearing impaired, epileptics, those on the autism spectrum, and diabetics.
Effie — whom they call a ‘service dog guide’ — is specially trained to help those with physical impairments.
Effie can be very specific in her tasks.
If Katie says ‘fetch mom’ she’ll go and lick mom’s hand, she can open the fridge and get a bottle of water, help Katie make her bed, and help reach or pick up objects.
If Katie loses her balance or falls, she just needs to put her hands on Effie's shoulders and the dog will keep barking until she gets up or help comes.
Katie said that, although Effie is very adorable, when she is working she’s not supposed to be petted or touched so that she doesn't get distracted or confused on who the master is.
Once the harness is off, Effie is more carefree and playful.
“She’s more like a puppy,” said Katie.
Katie and Effie took part in the Pet Valu Walk for Dog Guides on Sunday, May 28.
It was the first time the charity walk took place in Sault Ste. Marie since after being held on St. Joseph Island for years.
Around 50 people and 20-30 dogs showed up to the walk and they raised $9,200 for the raising and training of guide dogs through The Lions Foundation.
The organization said that the walk is held annually on the same day and this year roughly 240 communities held walks.