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Guiding the Way to Freedom for the Blind

blog header guide dogs

Meet Bubbles and Jogle, two training guide dogs who gave us a whole lot of puppy love when they came to visit the Medivet support centre in Watford as part of Guide Dog Awareness Week.

Sarah and Julia, both volunteer puppy walkers from Guide Dogs UK visited with their furry friends to teach members of the Medivet family about their role as puppy walkers and how guide dogs can change lives for the blind.

Golden Retriever Bubbles, who is just 11 weeks old, lives with her puppy walker Julia and it’s safe to say she melted everyone’s hearts with her adorable puppy eyes. Julia is an experienced puppy walker and has been volunteering at the Guide Dogs UK charity for more than ten years – Bubbles is her tenth puppy!

The slightly older and cheekier Jogle, who is a 7-month-old Golden Retriever/Labrador cross, lives with first-time walker Sarah and is not shy of saying hello. It was evident that Jogle is a quick learner who clearly knows the rules of obedience – especially when it comes to being rewarded with that delicious meaty treat!

Both dogs will soon be embarking on their extensive training programme to become official guide dogs and change someone's life. But for now, they are still precious little babies taking each day as it comes and learning as they go.

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Guide Dogs UK is a charity with teams all over the UK whose purpose is to provide mobility and freedom to blind and partially sighted people. The charity was set up just after the war when soldiers returned either blind or partially sighted due to gas poisoning and ever since then, they have become a renowned charity. Guide Dogs UK also campaign for the rights of visually impaired people, educate the public about eye care and fund vital eye disease research.

They have been breeding and training guide dogs for over 75 years and they rely solely on public donations and volunteers to help them help blind people enjoy the same freedom of movement as everybody else.

Guide Dogs UK taught us that anybody can volunteer to help and, more so, how important the role of a puppy walker is to guide dog work.guide dogs2

A puppy walker plays a fundamental role in the early socialisation and education of guide dogs. All it takes is time, dedication and a whole lot of love. The end result – knowing your help is providing a blind person with freedom of movement and changing their lives altogether.

The aim of puppy walking is to produce a puppy that is socially well behaved and responsive to their handler. It's important to ensure that the puppy is relaxed in different types of environments, including busy towns and cities, and that they are confident with different methods of transport.

Part of looking after puppies also means checking their ears, eyes, teeth and body on a regular basis to get them accustomed to being touched. A blind or partially sighted person will use this method to check for any lumps or growths on their dog and check to see if they are okay.

Puppies are usually placed with their puppy walkers between 6 and 8 weeks of age and will leave for the Guide Dogs training school when they are ready and mature enough to do so, usually between 12 and 14 months of age.

guidePuppy walkers have a supervisor they can turn to for advice and support when they need it and Guide Dogs UK cover the feeding and veterinary costs while they are in the puppy walker’s care. The cost to train a guide dog puppy from placement to formal training varies depending on geographical location, but one puppy costs approximately £5,000 to train, and can be a total of £50,000 from when the puppy is born right up until when they retire. There is no government funding, so they rely completely on public donations. When the guide dog retires, they can either return to their puppy walkers, stay with their handler (if they have the space available) or they can get adopted by a new, loving family. 

Unfortunately, there is a long waiting list for those in need of a guide dog, and it's not as simple as assigning the next available dog to someone on the list. Each dog is personally matched to a handler based on the personalities of both parties. Every dog is different and they each have varying needs, as do their handlers. So things like where they live and whether or not they have children will determine what kind of dog gets assigned to them.

We learnt a lot about the role of a guide dog and puppy walker, and we would like to thank both Sarah and Julia for taking time out of their day to see us and raise awareness of such an amazing cause.

With the help of the kind team at the support centre, we managed to raise a fantastic £105.00 for Guide Dogs UK.    

Every hour, another person in the UK goes blind. This means more puppies need to be trained.

Here's how you can help:

Sponsor a puppy 

Become a puppy walker 

Donate 

Thank you Guide Dogs UK. We wish Bubbles and Jogle the best of luck on their journey to becoming life-changing companions for a blind or partially-sighted person.

 

Posted October 9, 2015 by Cara Zaleski in Press

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