Cross-Canada ride is for the dogs

Michel Garant rolled through Penticton last week on his 7,000-km journey to raise money and awareness for a service dog program

Michel Garant and his companion Mollo spend some time in downtown Penticton during a recent stop on his cross-Canada tour to raise money and awareness for the Mira Foundation which provides dogs like Mollo free of charge to handicapped people.

Michel Garant and his companion Mollo spend some time in downtown Penticton during a recent stop on his cross-Canada tour to raise money and awareness for the Mira Foundation which provides dogs like Mollo free of charge to handicapped people.

When it comes to a challenge, Michel Garant is not above using strong-arm tactics to get what he wants.

And that’s particularly true on the 55-year-old paraplegic’s most adventurous quest to date, cycling over 7,000 kilometres from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Using his Top End model, 27-speed, adaptable strong-arm trike, powered only by the strength in those two appendages, he hopes to complete the task in the span of 90 days.

The Quebec native has been confined to a wheelchair since suffering a spinal cord injury while snowboarding about eight years ago, but it has not dampened his enthusiasm for life nor stymied his get up and go.

Since the accident, he has done a pair of wheel tours of the Gaspe region, and in early June embarked on his current cross-country fundraising and awareness tour.

During a stopover last week in Penticton following the June 9 start in Vancouver, Garant took some time to outline just what he hopes to accomplish during his mission.

Through his interpreter and sister-in-law Fabienne Breton, he explained a bit about his background and an overview of the journey while the cycle had some tweaking done at the Bike Barn.

After speaking to him in his native French language, Breton explained he took on the feat as a personal challenge and then decided to add a purpose to his efforts.

For that cause he did not have to look any further than down at his side, where his black Labrador service dog Mollo can often be found.

“He says it was just a natural thing for him to do because Mollo is so important to him in every aspect of his life day to day, and if he can help other people get dogs like his to make their lives better then that is what he will do,” said Breton. “Also Michel and Mollo have become very good friends, very quickly. They are buddies, and to him they know each other and they feel each other.”

His service dog is actually a product of the Mira Foundation, which raises and trains the dogs and then sends them out to people in need across Canada free of charge.

Each year, about 180 handicapped people are helped by Mira through the gifting of a dog and additional follow-up services provided to the users of the more than 800 dogs now working.

Since it was formed in 1981, Mira has provided about 2,000 canines in total to the handicapped. Each one represents a $30,000 investment.

The foundation is a non-profit organization employing 83 people and does not receive government funding, depending entirely on fundraising events organized by the thousands of volunteers and donors who contribute.

In addition to raising awareness, Garant hopes to realize $150,000 through his efforts to give to the foundation.

Mollo is actually trained to help his master move about in his non-motorized wheelchair but also has the unique ability to assist in other ways such as retrieving things from the floor.

“Anything I drop, for me it is so difficult to pick up, and if I want to go and get a newspaper or go to the convenience store or the grocery store, it’s a challenge,” said Garant. “It makes me very independent.”

In the short time they have been on the road, everything has gone smoothly, with the exception of leaving Vancouver. However, they managed that with the help of some good samaritans who showed them the way.

“It seems since he has started he has had angels all around him on his path, so it is quite good,” said Breton.

Anyone wishing to follow Garant’s journey or make a donation can do so on line by visiting michelgarant.ca.