WALKING to the shops, catching the bus and getting to work are things many of us take for granted.
But to a visually impaired person, getting around freely is a great luxury, and one often only afforded them with the help of a guide dog.
This year marks 80 years since the charity, Guide Dogs for the Blind, gave their first guide dog to an owner. Since then, the organisation - which is funded solely through donations - has created 30,000 life changing guide dog partnerships.
To mark their milestone anniversary, the Derbyshire Times met up with the people behind the pups, who train and care for the guide dogs and support their owners every step of the way.
Barbara Holbrook, a vicar and member of the Chesterfield branch of Guide Dogs for the Blind has raised seven guide dogs in her role as one of the UK’s 1000 voluntary ‘puppy walkers’. They come to her at six weeks old, and leave when they are around one, to begin their specialist training. “I have cried every time when I have to give them back” said Barbara, who is currently caring for an eight-month-old black labrador cross named Nevis. “But when you see them doing a training walk you know you have made the right decision”
Puppy walkers are responsible for teaching the dogs basic obedience and for raising a puppy that is socially well behaved, friendly and responsive to the handler. They are not paid for the work they do, but they are provided with food for the pup.
“You have to give them a lot of love and attention” said Barbara. “If you aren’t going to love them and give them attention then you shouldn’t get one. I love having them. I can’t imagine not having one.”
When the pups have left the walkers and received their training, at one of five specialist sites across the UK, they are sent for the final stages of coaching and matched to a compatible visually impaired client. This work is done by guide dog mobility instructors (GDMIs) who work tirelessly to ensure the partnership is right - for the person and the animal.
“No two days are ever the same as a GDMI, which keeps it interesting” said Kate Marriott (35), who works with guide dogs to be sent to the Chesterfield area. She helps the client and the dog to become accustomed with one another, before training them to work together.
“The training takes as long as it takes” she said.
“Safety is the key focus of a partnership and there is no point just putting anyone with any dog, because they might not be compatible.”
Pairings are based on walking speed, pace and the physical requirements and abilities of both parties.
“It is a physically and mentally tiring job, but it is so rewarding to see visually impaired people having the opportunity to live life to the full, and getting as much out of life as everyone else does.”
To find out more about the charity, and how you can get involved visit www.guidedogs.org.uk
The names of all the pups from a single guide dog litter start with the same letter.
It costs £5000 to support a guide dog from birth to when it finishes its training.
It costs just 50p for a visually impaired person to have a guide dog, but the full lifetime cost of a guide dog to the charity, from birth to retirement is £48,500.
There are currently 4,500 working guide dog partnerships in the UK.
Labradors, golden retrievers and German shepherds are the most common breeds of guide dog.
Two out of three guide dogs are funded by money given in a will.
The average working life of a guide dog is six to seven years.