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Irene sitting on a park bench with Matilda sitting on the ground in front of her with her head rested on Irene’s knee; Matilda sitting on the grass looking up towards the camera.

Raising Matilda

It all started at a coffee shop in Calgary, where Irene Burns saw a poster that CNIB was recruiting volunteer puppy raisers. She was immediately intrigued. 

“After retiring from teaching, I wondered, ‘What is my purpose now?’. I have always enjoyed dogs; in fact, I raised three Great Danes. I knew volunteering as a puppy raiser for CNIB Guide Dogs would be a great experience,” explains Irene. 

In February 2020, Irene was matched with Matilda, a black Labrador retriever puppy.

"Matilda was the runt of the litter. She was so tiny and sweet. I was very excited to start our journey together,” says Irene. 

What Matilda lacked in size, she made up for in personality. “Matilda is gentle, curious, and full of energy. We nicknamed her Waltzing Matilda because she loves music and movement,” says Irene.

From practicing basic skills to going out in public, the pair quickly adapted to their training goals.

“She is very smart and mastered all her cues; however, she still has issues ordering pizza,” jokes Irene. 

The duo also made time for fun during their training. Irene and Matilda enjoyed many summer mornings at Matilda’s favourite spot, the Inglewood Pool. After a dip in the pool, Irene would train Matilda on walking the pool deck, and practice sit and stay cues. 

“Since raising Matilda, my family and friends have become aware of the importance of this program. Everyone has been supportive and positive throughout this opportunity,” explains Irene.

Volunteering for CNIB also gave Irene the chance to share her unique experiences with her community. She was able to visit businesses in a new way and educate people about guide dogs. 

“I felt accomplished that I had a part in it all. The training, commitment, working on skills, and writing reports all paid off. It’s for a good cause and helps people improve their quality of life,” says Irene. 

In May, Matilda began advanced training at CNIB Guide Dogs’ Canine Campus in Carleton Place – her success has left Irene feeling optimistic and inspired. 

“I look forward to continuing to volunteer for CNIB. I feel so supported and have made new friends. I continue to receive monthly updates on Matilda’s progress, and I am so proud!” 

Update: Matilda graduated as part of the Class of 2022 and is now working as a guide dog.

For information on puppy raising, visit cnib.ca/PuppyRaising.