‘A loving companion’

In the UK there are over 360,000 people who are visually impaired. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is just one of the many charities that are out to give a helping hand to those with sight issues.

“Our mission statement is that we will not rest until people who are blind and partially sighted can enjoy the same freedom of

Several playful puppies, excited to begin guide dog training
Thousands of puppies are breed to become guide dogs.

movement as everyone else” Fiona MacAually, a member of their national communications team explained.

A guide dog can help a person with sight problems become more independent. “They are also a loving companion” Fiona added.

Joel Young, a member of The Guides for the Blind Association reading mobility team commented that “a guide dog can offer a visually impaired person faster, more fluid and safer movements” on top of the indecency bonus.

Samuel Wilkins, 21, is a student at Southampton Solent University, has Norrie Disease. This disease is a rare genetic disorder that primarily only effects males. Females in the family tend to be carriers, although there is only a 50% chance that it is passed on.

Someone that has Norrie Disease either is born blind or becomes blind in both eyes at a young age. Many also develop hearing problems, and almost half have delayed development, metal issues or behavioural abnormalities. Although it is rare, there is still a possibility that the gene mutates spontaneously.

Samuel walking with his cane.
Samuel Wilkins is looking forward to getting a guide dog

To Samuel, having a guide dog would make a big difference. “I can manage with a cane but a dog is more secure. A dog can guide you around people and other obstacles safely. Dogs make it easier to learn new routes” Sam said

There are various reasons as to why people want a guide dog. These reasons are considered before the dog it trained to the right standards. “Some people just get them to go for a walk to the shops and back. I want it for almost anything that could happen” Sam mentioned.

Other things that are considered in process of supplying a dog include:  where you live; what you want the dog to do; the types of activities involved; the persons height and; their walking speed and stride.

All this requirements have an effect on waiting times. Samuel has been on the waiting list for a guide dog since the start of 2011. “It can take up to two years to train our dogs. Each dog is matched specifically to their owner’s requirements” explained Joel, “although sometimes it could be 10 months. It varies on the dogs coming though too” he continued.

Training costs money, and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association spends a lot of money on training not only the animal but the owner too. “In June I will be getting training with the guide dog. I have to have four weeks training; two weeks in a hotel somewhere, and then another two weeks at home.” Samuel explained.

“It costs around £50,000 to support a guide dog from birth to retirement” Fiona mentioned. £28,000 is spent on training a guide dog

A photo of a sitting guide dog with it's harness
Guide Dogs are expense to breed and train.

and the price of each new guide dog partnership that is created is £35,000. She continued, “Our clients could be partnered with as many as eight dogs over the course of their lifetime”.

Owners are not expected to pay anything for the training, “I have to pay 50p plus the vet bills and some of the food bills” said Samuel. But these costs are not the same for everyone. The charity asks for only 50p when supplying the guide dog as they recognise that the cost of owning a dog is not one that everyone is able to manage.

Steve Reed is the chairman of the Eastleigh and Winchester fundraising branch. He has been fundraising for 28 years. “I am a blind person with a guide dog that I find very good so I have an empathy for this charity” he said. “I feel it is important that everyone can have a guide dog whether they have money, a job, or nothing” explained Steve.

The charity receives no government funding so every bit of money raised is a big deal. The money that Steve and his team raise goes towards many aspects of the charity. Areas include: Breeding the dogs; caring the guide dogs; training; support and advice for owners; and much more.

“We fundraise via street collections and other such events including skittle evenings and quiz nights. We are always looking for volunteers to help with driving collections and helping out at events” Steve mentioned.

To find out more about the charity, visit Guidedogs.org.uk.

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