From puppy dog to guide dog
Posted: 16 Sep 2009
You can help sponsor a guide dog puppy and have a ball at the same time at the annual Dogs Dinner at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle.
It’s on 20 March 2010 and there’ll be dinner and dancing to a live band and disco. Tickets are £40 available from Claire.Devine@guidedogs.org.uk
Last year’s event raised £5,000 for puppy Jazz who is now being trained for his new job.
The search is on for puppy walkers for guide dogs around the North East region. ne4me finds out where they are most needed and talks to a South Shields puppy walker about her job.
In 1931, getting out and about was light years away from how things are today.
Trolley buses had just arrived in London, few people had private cars and air travel for the masses was nothing more than a dream.
But a new means of mobility for the visually-impaired had just taken off in the UK in the shape of guide dogs.
It was a movement that swiftly gathered momentum and it continues to grow from strength to strength to this day.
Despite decades of change in other fields, the way guide dogs work remains similar to the early days. And, until someone invents a robot which can not only guide people with visual impairment safely round all environments but will also provide love, companionship and a jolly good laugh, then it looks set to stay that way.
Volunteers are absolutely crucial to keeping most charities going and Guide Dogs for the Blind relies on them more than most.
More than 10,000 people in the UK give their time and effort to the charity in many different ways. They include dog boarders, drivers, liaison officers, puppy walkers, people looking after breeding stock, speakers and fundraisers. All play a huge part in making the organisation tick.
Puppy walkers are amongst the most visible. Most people will have seen them taking guide-dogs-in-training into shops and supermarkets, onto buses, trains and even aircraft, around the streets. Indeed everywhere a human being might want to go you could potentially find a guide dog, so puppy walkers have to prepare the pups as much as possible for the training programme they move onto and their working lives ahead.
It’s a very important role and one upon which Guide Dogs depends. Currently there are shortages of people in Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Peterlee, Sunderland, South Shields, Stockton and Billingham volunteering to carry out the work.
“We’re looking for enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers in these areas who can care for the pups full-time because, at the end of the day, if we don’t have puppy walkers we don’t have guide dogs,” says Sue Richardson from Guide Dogs.
The pups spend most of their first year living with a puppy walker who will teach them basic obedience and get them used to a home environment, noise, the bustle of towns and public transport
Guide Dogs supplies basic equipment and covers all veterinary and feeding expenses. Volunteers need to have use of a car, be at home for most of the day, and take their puppy into many varied environments – sometimes busy and difficult ones. Their yard or garden will also need to be securely fenced.
One of the North East’s best-known puppy walkers is Ethne Brown from South Shields. As well as puppy walking she also travels throughout the region to talk to different groups and organisations about the charity, carrying out about 50 engagements each year.
She started puppy walking 11 years ago when ‘empty nest’ syndrome set in and is now on her twelfth pup – a border collie/retriever cross called Chloe. Like many puppy walkers Ethne has agreed to take back dogs she has puppy walked when they retire so she is also caring for her previous charge Naomi who is now nine-and-a-half years old.
“I made a promise years ago that I would have her back if she needed a home,” says Ethne.
“Her owner had to go into a care home and was not well enough to look after her so she came to me. She knew the house and the garden and settled in straight away. Her previous owner died in January this year – the very same day Naomi moved back.”
Continuing contact with previous charges is something Ethne encourages – but it’s up to the new guide dog owners to decide whether to stay in touch.
“Sometimes people want to, sometimes they don’t. But I’m always delighted to hear about how my pups are getting on,” Ethne says.
One of her most recent charges, Becca, is now the guide dog for a young mother in the Midlands who has a three-year-old child but previously couldn’t get out and about. Now, with Becca, she is a regular at local mothers and toddlers clubs, goes on the train to sports training and is attending courses – accompanied only by Becca.
“That’s what makes it all worthwhile,” says Ethne. “When you hear the difference having a guide dog can make to people’s lives you understand how immensely valuable they are – and it’s nice to think you played a part.
“There is a downside, of course. Every time a dog leaves you are dreading the moment – counting down the days with dread until they have to go. It’s a huge wrench, but, for me, it’s made a lot easier by following up the dog’s progress. I worry until I hear they are in kennels, eating all right and generally settling down.”
There is continuing support during the puppy walking process from Guide Dogs, which is especially useful for the novice puppy walker or when something like a medical or behavioural problem occurs.
Ethne adds: “What you really need for this role is a love of dogs, infinite patience and a sense of humour. But my biggest piece of advice to anyone thinking of being a puppy walker is to enjoy the fun of it.”