A golden tail

Pla­cen­tia teen’s guide dog makes big dif­fer­ence in fam­ily’s life


Blake Ma­her is a smart, en­er­getic and lov­ing 14 year old. What makes this Pla­cen­tia teenager unique from oth­ers his age is his dog, Armani.

Armani is a ser­vice an­i­mal that has been a part of Blake’s fam­ily for the past three years.

Each day when Blake ven­tures out­doors for a walk, to the lo­cal skat­ing arena to watch his brother Jag­ger play hockey or on er­rands with his mom Tara Greene, Armani will go along with him.

Wear­ing a red vest that says he is a Li­ons Foun­da­tion of Canada DogGuide for some­one with autism, he walks along with Blake. If Blake gets anx­ious or over­whelmed, he can run his fin­gers along the dog’s fur, which can hav­ing a calm­ing ef­fect. But mostly, he is just proud to have him by his side.

“Blake is very proud of (Armani),” mom Tara told The Compass last week. “He tries to the best of his abil­ity to tell peo­ple all about him.”

Although limited in ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the ado­ra­tion Blake has for Armani is com­mu­ni­cated through his ac­tions. He shows him off to his friends, and when strangers want to pet him, they look to him for per­mis­sion. And mom al­lows him to de­cide if it’s OK.

Find­ing a match

Li­ons Foun­da­tion of Canada or­ga­nizes the train­ing of dogs for all dif­fer­ent dis­abil­i­ties through Dog­Guides. It trains see­ing eye dogs, hear­ing ear dogs, seizure re­sponse dogs, di­a­betic alert dogs, ser­vice dog guides and autism as­sis­tance dog guides.

DogGuide spokesper­son Jenny Gladish told The Compass her or­ga­ni­za­tion hopes to train 150 dogs in 2015.

The process to ap­ply to Dog­Guides was a lengthy one for Tara and Blake’s dad Jerry Ma­her – a year-and-a-half. But it was worth it.

Since 2009, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been train­ing and pro­vid­ing dogs to autis­tic chil­dren.

The ap­pli­ca­tion process in­volves hav­ing the child’s doc­tor fill out forms for med­i­cal verification of their con­di­tion. A visit is made to the house­hold to con­firm the living sit­u­a­tion of the fam­ily would be suit­able for a ser­vice dog. Then, if ap­proved, a han­dler would be trained at the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Oakville fa­cil­ity.

When Blake got ap­proved for a ser­vice dog, Tara flew to On­tario for train­ing. It was there she was in­tro­duced to Armani, a beau­ti­ful Golden Re­triever. This would soon be­come Blake’s dog.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion helps match a dog with an owner based on per­son­al­ity.

“They surely have a beau­ti­ful bond and were per­fectly matched,” Tara ex­plained of the pair’s con­nec­tion, not­ing Armani sleeps in Blake’s bed each night. That was one way Tara got them to bond.

Blake and Armani are now best bud­dies and part­ners in daily ac­tiv­i­ties.

“Blake has ma­tured a lot since get­ting the dog, where pri­mar­ily his pur­pose was to en­sure his safety while walk­ing or in public park­ing lots or stores,” Tara ex­plained. “He would be teth­ered to the dog and could only go so far. Now all that is gone. Blake just nat­u­rally holds (Armani’s) han­dle and off we go.”

Many not aware

A ser­vice dog usu­ally goes with its owner to public es­tab­lish­ments, in­clud­ing gro­cery stores, parks, the bank and some­times school. Blake, Tara and Jerry each have reg­is­tra­tion cards with a photo that al­lows them to bring the dog just about any­where.

Although Tara said most places they take the dog are wel­com­ing and un­der­stand­ing, there have been times when she has felt ed­u­ca­tion could make things eas­ier.

“It can get ex­haust­ing al­ways hav­ing to ex­plain your­self,” she said, not­ing she of­fers for places she and Blake fre­quently visit to pho­to­copy his reg­is­tra­tion card so the staff can rec­og­nize him when he vis­its.

One such sit­u­a­tion hap­pened at the lo­cal board­walk, where a hand­ful of walk­ers have scoured at them for bring­ing a dog there. Ser­vice an­i­mals are the only an­i­mals per­mit­ted on the board­walk.

The Town of Pla­cen­tia wanted to help res­i­dents rec­og­nize ser­vice an­i­mals and cre­ated a “Did you know?” Face­book post. A photo of Blake and Armani ac­com­pa­nied a write up about the town wel­com­ing ser­vice dogs. It specif­i­cally men­tions the board­walk as an ac­cept­able place to take such an an­i­mal.

Tara was happy to be a part of the aware­ness cam­paign with the town.

“Be­ing part of such an in­clu­sive town and school com­mu­nity re­ally makes life bet­ter for fam­i­lies of chil­dren with any type of ex­cep­tion­al­ity.”

She also be­lieves ed­u­cat­ing the public is the first step, and has even given pre­sen­ta­tions to Blake’s peers at school. He does not take Armani to school.

“It’s amaz­ing how much the chil­dren have learned and how they re­spect the rules,” she ex­plained.


The Li­ons Club of Pla­cen­tia is a big Dog­Guides spon­sor, and has helped Blake since he got Armani. Li­ons Clubs across the coun­try help fund the pro­gram. The price to spon­sor a dog is $12,000. The Li­ons Foun­da­tion cov­ers the re­main­ing $13,000 to en­sure zero cost to the new dog owner.

Some fundrais­ers also help off­set the cost.

Each year, Blake and his fam­ily take part in the Pu­rina Walk for Dog­Guides. The com­mu­nity raised some $6,000 the first time they took part.

This year the walk takes place on May 31st, start­ing at the Pla­cen­tia Li­ons Den, and all pro­ceeds go to six guide dog train­ing fa­cil­i­ties in the coun­try.

It is this and other fundrais­ing ef­forts that al­low Blake and oth­ers to have a ser­vice dog at no cost. It is some­thing Tara will al­ways be ap­pre­cia­tive of.

“Our fam­ily is still very thank­ful for such a gift that helps makes many days eas­ier,” Tara said.

“They surely have a beau­ti­ful bond and were per­fectly matched.” – Tara Greene, mother


Blake Ma­her (left) of­ten takes his ser­vice dog Armani to many public places, in­clud­ing to see his brother Jag­ger (right) play hockey. Armani al­ways wears his vest when he is work­ing with Blake.

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