Hugh Adami, Ottawa Citizen, April 1, 2015
Bruce Boyd does without a lot of things – like a new pair of winter boots to keep his feet warm and dry, and food that would give him much-needed protein.
He does so to hold onto his service dog, Ziggy, a dear companion who gets him around safely.
If he has to start begging on the street to pay for some of his dog’s needs, so be it, says the 59-year-old Boyd, who is blind and suffers from hepatitis C as a result of a blood transfusion during eye surgery in 1980.
“Look at me, I’m a broken-down old man.”
It’s clear Boyd desperately needs Ziggy, whom he’s had for the past 2 1/2 years.
Boyd receives $77 from the Ontario Disability Support Program to help feed, groom and pay for Ziggy’s vet bills for regular checkups and ailments.
That’s hardly enough, says Boyd, as Ziggy’s allergies require a special diet that alone takes care of the $77.
So when Ziggy needs his nails clipped and teeth cleaned, or a blood test and medication to keep him free of fleas and ticks, Boyd has to turn to his meagre ODSP pension of about $1,000 a month. That’s tough, considering $475
goes for a room he rents in an east-end condo apartment. The rest is supposed to cover personal needs such as food, toiletries and clothing.
Living on that amount was virtually impossible last year, when Ziggy was frequently sick and had to be taken to the vet. Boyd had to cut back even more on his expenses, and he still feels the pinch today. “I do without a lot,” says Boyd, who often eats at the Mission because he can’t always afford groceries.
Ziggy’s vet and drug bills came to almost $4,000 in 2014. Luckily, the animal hospital Boyd deals with reduced the total amount by $1,662, possibly
with some help from the Farley Foundation, which subsidizes the cost of veterinary care in Ontario for people in need.
The foundation relies on donations from the veterinarian community, corporate sponsors and pet owners. The money goes quickly. The Blair Animal Hospital, for example, says its 2015 allocation is already gone.
So far this year, Ziggy, a four-year-old black Labrador, has been healthy, but Boyd says the dog still costs him far more than the $77 he receives from ODSP. He has gone to charities and service clubs that have programs to help disabled
people with costs for their service dogs. But Boyd says he has been turned away because of low funds or qualification rules.
Ziggy the service dog has allergies, which increase the cost for his care.
The CNIB offers assistance for “extraordinary veterinary expenses” such as surgeries, but not routine costs. His appeals to other agencies and service clubs such as the March of Dimes, and the Lions and Rotary clubs have also failed.
Boyd recently took his problem to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who put him in touch with the city’s community and social services department. It, in turn, suggested he contact the same charities, agencies and service clubs that had already
turned Boyd away. One city employee suggested his best bet was to become his “own fundraiser” to help with Ziggy’s costs. Boyd couldn’t believe his ears.
Calls by The Public Citizen to the same agencies and service clubs that Boyd approached either went unanswered or received email responses with links to websites that got Boyd nowhere.
A call to the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services resulted in an email with links to the websites of the same organizations. The email noted the
Ontario government “is committed to supporting the most vulnerable members of our society,” noting ODSP already offers $77 in additional monthly support to clients with service animals.
But there wasn’t anything offered that could have helped Boyd in the long-or short-term. “It’s the attitude the disabled face all the time,” he says.
Based on what his doctors have told him about his hep C, Boyd expects a few more years of living independently before he faces the probability of long-term care.
That’s when he will give up Ziggy. In the meantime, Boyd is pondering what to do next to help cover Ziggy’s costs.
“The only option is that I beg for money.”