I OFTEN joke about my poor eyesight and how I’m rendered almost completely blind without contact lenses or glasses, but I recently spent a morning with a guide dog trainer to experience what it is really like to be visually impaired and to depend on a guide dog.
Andy Guiel from Trefonen has over 30 years experience working with guide dogs and is currently looking for people in the area who can provide ‘boarding homes’ for trainee guide dogs.
Andy and guide dog Delphi are part of a display team, the only one of its kind in the country, which performs at shows and trade events to raise awareness about the guide dogs charity.
Andy and I took Delphi into Oswestry town centre where he told me how guide dogs do their job.
Delphi instinctively senses when the person he is leading is vulnerable, Andy explains.
The labrador stops at all kerbs, visibly checking for traffic - as he was trained to do, and responds promptly to simple commands like “straight on”, “find left”, “find right” and “find the kerb”.
To show me the importance of guide dogs for the visually impaired, Andy blindfolds me on Bailey Street and asks me to stand still with my left arm poised as a cue for Delphi.
Delphi circles me before sitting at my left side and Andy asks me, now completely blinded, to find the handle on Delphi’s harness by finding the dog’s head and moving back so that I am parallel with its back legs.
Taking the handle lightly, we set off.
I know it’s a cliché, but you really don’t realise how much you take your sight for granted until you are deprived of it.
I found myself, at first, shuffling my feet awkwardly, being unsettled by every undulation of the street which seems completely level at any other time.
After a short distance, and unbeknown to me, Andy removes Delphi’s leash so that I’m being guided solely by the dog.
Gradually, it became easier as I entrusted my safety to Delphi and before I knew it, we were at the bottom of Albion Hill.
Such is Delphi’s discipline that as we walked under scaffolding in Beatrice Street, Delphi refused to advance until he saw that we had acknowledged the ladder in our path.
It’s amazing to see an animal show such intelligence, and patience and Delphi clearly enjoys his job.
Andy does too, “It’s the best job in the world.” he says.
“The dog can make such a huge difference for a visually impaired person, one thing I always mention at displays is that we get calls from people who have had their first dog saying they had been able to walk their children to school with the dog.”
Funding a dog from birth to death costs the charity £45,000, but blind people pay just 50p for a dog. The charity relies heavily on donations as it receives no government funding.
“The display team has become a victim of its own success,” explains Andy.
What started out as a pilot scheme became so successful that it desperately needs boarding homes to allow it to carry on training more dogs.
“I feel proud because this only started out as a pilot scheme,” he adds.
Andy needs people who live in Oswestry, preferably within a short distance of the town centre, to take on an adult demonstration dog and provide it with a home.
“The aim is to permanently board the dogs with these boarders, the demonstration dogs do this work permanently and are not allocated to a blind owner,” says Andy.
“They get all the benefits of a pet and the charity pays for all costs, the food, vets bills and equipment.”
All that is asked for is a loving environment and someone who has the time and space for a dog.
The labrador or golden retriever would then be collected by Andy for training as and when it was needed.
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