Raising Irwin

Cheryl kneeling next to Irwin, a black Labrador retriever wearing a yellow Future Guide Dog vest, in a forest in Canmore Alberta surrounded by trees and greenery.
Photo credit: Rosanne Ballance, CNIB volunteer photographer

Irwin, a black Labrador retriever, is the first puppy Cheryl Dubuc has raised for CNIB Guide Dogs, but certainly not her last.

Surrounded by nature, Cheryl lives in Canmore, Alberta. Cheryl would take Irwin on walks where they would at times encounter wildlife such as elk, deer and coyotes, along with moose, a black bear, grouse, ducks, geese, a red fox, rabbits and even a black wolf. Cheryl advises, "Irwin always remained calm and well behaved during these wildlife encounters."

Kezia Gray, a puppy raising supervisor with CNIB Guide Dogs, thought it was fitting that a puppy named after the late Steve Irwin, an Australian wildlife expert who founded Wildlife Warriors, loved the outdoors. Kezia and Cheryl agree that Irwin became a “Canmore Wildlife Warrior”.

Cheryl describes Irwin as handsome, calm, gentle and full of life. He loved walking the forest trails, playing on the closed golf course fairways and swam whenever he got the chance.

“Once COVID hit, I had to think of different ways to provide Irwin with the obedience training and socialization opportunities he needed to succeed,” says Cheryl, who received Irwin in February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic.

The duo would go for walks on the trails and practice command training with their friend Jaden and her golden retriever Shelby. Cheryl believes walking and training with Jaden and Shelby was a huge benefit for Irwin.

“Irwin was a huge part of our family for a year – he made us laugh and smile on a daily basis,” says Cheryl. “We know Irwin will have a very important job and that job comes with a new home and family that will love him as much as we did. I am proud to know that I had a very small part in making an incredible difference in someone’s life.”

Irwin started advanced training at CNIB Guide Dogs' Canine Campus in June and is expected to graduate with the Class of 2022.