Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Iqaluit April 16, 2013 - 8:21 am

Blind Iqaluit man gains independence, thanks to guide dog Xeno

“It gives you your life back”

Noah Papatsie takes a break during a walk with his guide dog, Xeno. (PHOTO BY SAMANTHA DAWSON)
Noah Papatsie takes a break during a walk with his guide dog, Xeno. (PHOTO BY SAMANTHA DAWSON)

Nunavut’s first guide dog, Xeno, had a successful first winter in Iqaluit, after arriving in the city last November, says his owner Noah Papatsie.

After almost four years of searching for the right guide dog, through the non-profit charitable organization Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind in Ottawa, Papatsie, who has been legally blind since 2000, said it took so long to find Xeno because “he had to be a special dog.”

That means being able to navigate Iqaluit’s icy streets, and one who could withstand -40 C temperatures.

“He’s changed a lot of our lives,” Papatsie said.

Xeno, a two-year old golden retriever with a calm disposition, sat obediently at Papatsie’s feet, while he spoke to Nunatsiaq News.

Papatsie, 43, who lost his sight due to a work-related accident, said that over this past winter, he’s been able to do things and go places much more than when he could before when using a cane to help guide him.

That’s good, he said, because he said he was eager “to get my independence back.”

This what encouraged Papatsie to start doing research on how to get a guide dog.

Now, Xeno does his work on a command system, such as “find door,” “find kitchen,” or “go to the store.”

As for Xeno, “he goes with me wherever I go,” Papatsie said, giving Xeno an affectionate pat on the head.

Papatsie can now walk from his home in the downtown area of Iqaluit to anywhere he wants, with Xeno as his guide.

“He’s really good. He knows where I want to go,” Papatsie said.

But Papatsie gives Xeno breaks sometimes — time to run around, play with the family dog, a Labrador, who is the true “protector of the house,” or spend time with Papatsie’s wife, sons, 13 and seven, and daughter, nine.

To learn the ropes of walking around, Xeno was trained in in the city and on the land, or “around snow and gravel.”

Xeno was the youngest of his class of graduates, Papatsie said, adding that the dogs start their training when only a few weeks old.

“Everybody loves him. Every time I give him a command, he listens,” Papatsie said.

The only problem this past winter: the plastic portion of Xeno’s leash kept breaking off in the cold.

But other than that, Xeno, equipped with a dog jacket and special plastic dog booties, didn’t have any other issues while learning the roads.

“He’s very responsive,” Papatsie said.

Xeno’s instructor came up with him last winter to help the dog get used to Iqaluit.

“He has to be able to adapt to the climate,” Papatsie said.

Papatsie encourages people with vision impairment or blindness to have guide dogs because these dogs provide a blind person “more ability to do things alone,” he said.

“It gives you your life back, you’ve got to do things for yourself,” Papatsie said, who has volunteered with Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society for the past five years.

Now, he’s working on his resume and looking for job prospects.

“It’s a big world out there…you can’t stop just because you had an accident, you’ve got to keep going. I’m pretty sure there can be a better outcome — it’s a step to what’s better,” he said.

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