Victoria-based Paralympian follows his instincts for K9 training – Victoria News

Paralympian Jessica Tuomela has spent the last year working with dog specialists in scent tracking to finally receive Lucy, a golden retriever guide dog trained to help find missing and vulnerable people.

Once she and Lucy are paired up in February and undergo additional training together, Tuomela plans to travel across the province with her new companion to assist with search and rescue operations when requested.

The three-time swimming and triathlon Paralympian, who was blinded by a diagnosis of retinoblastoma at the age of three, said she is particularly interested in partnering with provincial organizations representing people with autism and of dementia.

“(Lucy) won’t stop people from wandering, but when they do wander, she’s there and will ease some of the stress the family is feeling,” Tuomela said.

Training tracking dogs as local resources for Indigenous communities in interior British Columbia, where women and girls are at disproportionate risk of going missing, is another area Tuomela is focusing on. “They will have a resource living in the area, as opposed to (K9 search and rescue teams) taking five hours to get there,” she said.

Lucy and Tuomela will become a duo when the skilled dog arrives from the United States in February. Her interest in K9 search and rescue training peaked working with her current guide dog, Brandy, she said. Tuomela contacted dog trainers in Victoria, British Columbia and across Canada looking for someone willing to teach her how to train animals for scent, but no one was able to take her. due to her blindness, she said.

“Paul (Coley) was the person who said ‘yes,'” Tuomela said.

Coley, a retired FBI agent, runs a dog training center in Tallahassee, Florida. He wore a blindfold while training Lucy, Tuomela said, to better understand the challenges she would face in her own training efforts. After arriving in Victoria, Coley will provide Tuomela with a few weeks of training in handling and directing Lucy in person.

“I will need a dog handler to run with me (as part of a training course), but I’m still the main dog handler. It’s really a partnership… if you can’t see what the dog is doing, you really have to trust the dog,” she said, noting that it wasn’t difficult given her background.

Balancing athletics, working and training animals is a delicate balance, the Paralympian added. She is currently training to run the triathlon at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in England and works part-time at the Homewood Ravensview mental health and addictions center in North Saanich.

“Fortunately, I’m still a triathlete. So I think I can follow (Lucy).

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