On 21 octobre 1981, Éric St-Pierre proudly presented two blind individuals with the first two guide dogs trained in Quebec. In so doing, he began a charitable endeavour completely dedicated to helping the handicapped. His first order of business was to ensure that both users and partners would be willing participants as he sought to establish both a viable range of services and funding to provide dogs free of charge.
Little by little, the number of guide dogs provided by MIRA increased, as did the demand for these dogs. In 1989, Éric St-Pierre took on the task of establishing fixed assets endowment that would allow MIRA to fulfil its mission, including a kennel sheltering up to a hundred dogs.
In 1991, MIRA creates a guide-dog program for blind youngsters. Since that time, MIRA has been the only school in the world to provide guide dogs to blind individuals under 15, having given more than 85 guide dogs to young teenagers in Quebec, Ontario, the Maritime Provinces, France and Mexico.
In the beginning, MIRA trained mostly with Labradors and Bernese Mountain dogs. In 1991, Éric St-Pierre developed a breed—the Labernese (a cross between the Labrador and the Bernese Mountain dog)—that was to become the first highly sociable, man-made breed created for the express purpose of providing assistance to humans.
In 1992, MIRA continues in an innovative vein and explores how a service dog could be trained to help children with multiple disabilities and individuals with physical handicaps. MIRA has since expanded its programs by providing service dogs to such individuals.
In 1994, in order to continue its work, MIRA acquired a research and development farm. On this site, in August 1995 and 1996, Éric St-Pierre gave two guide-dog classes for deaf and blind subjects. To date, 15 deaf and blind individuals (including one in France and one in New Brunswick), have enjoyed the benefits of a MIRA guide-dog. Teaching a deaf and blind individual to use a guide-dog is a real tour de force.
This farm, having been nearly completely destroyed by the ice storm in January 1998, it was rebuilt by volunteers under the supervision of Mr. Jacques Langelier of the Farnham Lions Club. This building now has two floors. On the first floor, there is a kennel for the male and female breeders and for dogs undergoing training. On the second floor is a training laboratory, where a neighbourhood street has been artificially reproduced in a controlled environment in which light, movements, obstacles on runners and the height of balconies are all determined by a human operator. This unique facility provides a setting to evaluate and train guide dogs and to give sight-impaired clients an opportunity to practice under controlled conditions. In this way, they can make the most of the guide-dog program.
In the fall of 2001, MIRA set about procuring a housing unit, the Eukanuba Center, to improve it’s ability to meet the needs of individuals with motor disabilities.
In 2003, MIRA has put in place a research program to help children afflicted with pervasive development disorders (PDD) such as autism. To date, 92 dogs have been assigned to this program.
In 2006, MIRA became member of the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF).
In 2008, MIRA inaugurated its brand new nursery, built according to the most rigorous hygiene standards. A vast corridor that runs along the center of the nursery allows visitors to observe the puppies without disturbing them. The nursery houses 18 dog enclosures along with a larger veterinary clinic providing the latest equipment.
In 2010, following the comprehensive data collection and quantitative and qualitative research on the impact of the presence of an assistance dog in the family of a child with a pervasive developmental disorder, MIRA inaugurates the Schola MIRA. This small school offers a service intervention for children with pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) as well as training services and support to parents, relatives and professionals who wish to acquire or expand their knowledge. The recommended approach is to soothe, comfort, inform and empower the greatest number of families with a child with pervasive developmental disorder. The allocation of an assistance dog is at the heart of this approach. Schola MIRA services are offered free of charge to children with PDD and their parents. During that year, MIRA also inaugurates its new administrative center.
MIRA owns a 49,140 square meters lot on which five buildings stand—a housing facility to accommodate 10 guests at a time during a month in the guide dogs program; another housing facility to accommodate 10 guests at a time during a 21-day period in the service dogs program; a canine maternity ward for gravid females with a production capacity of 500 puppies per year; a veterinary clinic equipped with high-tech technology instruments, an examination room, an operating room and an X-Ray room, a kennel able to board 100 dogs in training. The buildings and grounds are also used for training dogs.
Since its founding in 1981, MIRA has given away over 2,000 guide and service dogs.
The cost of a guide or service dog is $ 30,000 and each dog is given free of charge. MIRA does not receive any government funds, its financing depends entirely on donations from the public, from charitable organizations and from private companies.