A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the Guide Dogs training centre in Leamington Spa. As a total animal nut I was MEGA excited and asked my Dad to come along as my +1. I hadn’t been to Leamington Spa before but it’s really nice with some lovely buildings – the roads are slightly confusing though; I was glad Dad was driving and not me!
Although obviously I’ve always been aware of Guide Dogs, the important work they do, and have always thought the pooches themselves are incredible, after spending time with the team I now realise I had no idea. My concept of the whole process wasn’t even scratching the surface.
The puppies are bred very particularly for the role, taking into account their parents temperaments, intelligence and medical history – they have to be 100% healthy through their lineage in order to be sure they have the perfect dogs for the job.
After being born, the dogs are looked after (voluntarily) by the breeder. Next they’re taken to their next home where they meet their (voluntary) puppy walker who dedicates a lot of time and energy to making sure they are taken out of their comfort zone early in life and taught to take things in their stride – things we would take for granted such as roadworks blocking the pavement, or sirens etc. From there, they move on again to their new home with (volunteer) trainers where they are taught the basics and monitored to ensure they are progressing as they should be. After this, the dogs go to the training centre – where the majority of staff are volunteers too. Here they are put through their paces and trained to perfection before being matched with a person in need.
I asked whether dogs are just assigned to whoever is next on the waiting list and was told that no, they spend time with both the person in need and the dogs, before analysing what they know of each to ensure they find the perfect match. The dogs are then introduced to the person they hope to home them with to see if they’re compatible and a bond can be formed.
I was surprised to be told that just over 50% of partially sighted or blind people never leave the house alone. Imagine that – only leaving the house if you have somebody else with you. I’ve thought about this a great deal since I visited the training centre and I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be to lose your sight, or to be born without it. I can’t imagine how intimidating the world must seem, or how vulnerable I would feel. However, with the assignment of a Guide Dog comes a newfound lease of life for many people as they have somebody – their pooch – that they can trust to help them get around.
We spoke to a lovely lady called Maggie who has been blind since birth. Despite this, she has led a very full and active life – in fact, she’s done more than I have! She’s travelled the world, rides horses and generally makes the most of every single day, all of which has been done with her Guide Dogs by her side.
The most shocking aspect of the day, for me, was hearing that Guide Dogs receive NO funding from the Government. Not a penny. Each Guide Dog will cost the charity approximately £50,000 over it’s working life, which averages at about 7-8 years, meaning most people will need more than one throughout their life. £50,000 per dog and the Government provide no support – everything is paid for via donations.
In my personal opinion, Guide Dogs can be crucial to the quality of a person’s life if they are visually impaired or blind, and for them to be reliant on a charity for a gift as simple as being able to leave their house in confidence, really staggers me. There is so much funding available for such a wide range of things, but not something as crucial as enabling those that cannot see the ability to live their lives.
The work I saw at the Guide Dogs training centre was heart warming, life affirming and eye opening. I have an ever higher respect for the dogs, a new appreciation of those who require them, and a great deal of respect for all those that work so hard to ensure this facility is available to those who need it.
If, after reading this blog post and watching the video, you feel you would like to donate to the Guide Dogs in order to help them carry on with their important and life enhancing work, you can do so via their website: http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/supportus.
Thank you Guide Dogs for inviting me to spend the day with you and thank you for all the hard work you do. None of us know what lies around the corner, but knowing there are charities like you helping those in need is reassuring indeed.