Monday, 18 October 2021

Rotary Club of Henley Bridge

THE Rotary Club of Henley Bridge was delighted to welcome two speakers from Guide Dogs for the Blind to its Zoom meeting on March 24.

They spoke of their very different experiences of the charity.

Yvonne Crane, whose dog Velvet is a black Labrador, is a dog breeder for Guide Dogs. Nicola Pamphilon, who is blind, relies on Kimber, also a black Labrador, to give her independence.

Yvonne told how she looks after Velvet, who has a litter of puppies once a year.

She has responsibility for raising the puppies until they are about 12 weeks old, when they go to Guide Dogs training and are found a home where they will be raised until they are 14 months old.

During this time they go everywhere with the family, getting used to different places, environments and people.

The dogs learn basic commands, such as “sit”, “stop” and “walk to heel”, that will follow them through their working life.

Once they get to 14 months, the dogs go off to training camp for proper puppy training, which takes one month.

The dogs get used to their harness and learn things such as “constructive” disobedience. For example, if there is a danger such as a car parked on the pavement, the dog leads the blind person away.

In addition, the dog needs to be aware of the environment to ensure that their handler doesn’t walk into a tree branch or other overhead dangers.

Once the dogs have been through their training they get ready to meet, their new “forever” handler.

Lots of thought goes into matching dogs with their new handlers, whether it is a town or country setting, whether the owner has a busy or quite sedentary lifestyle, and many other factors.

Once the dogs and their new handlers meet they start to get used to each other. This requires three weeks at dog training school and a week at home learning local routes and daily routines.

It is very intensive training, which makes dogs and handlers fit for active living.

Nicola told the club that she had a rare degenerative disease which had led to her becoming totally blind in her twenties.

This process had taken away her self-confidence and made her feel trapped in her home.

Getting Kimber had made a radical difference to her life, bringing back her self-esteem and allowing her to get out and about.

She has had Kimber for six years and relies on him in many ways.

Nicola and Kimber have regular assessments to ensure that their working relationship is going well.

Nicola gave us some tips about meeting people who have a guide dog:

• Always ask the handler if it is all right to pat or speak to the dog.

• If you see someone with a guide dog who is holding the lead rather than the harness, the person needs some help, so always ask.

During lockdown Nicola, like everyone else, has found life difficult. Getting out and about has been more difficult and following the rules has led to more restrictions as she and Kimber have been having less exercise. She can’t wait until everyone is able to meet again.

Nicola told us about the different ways of supporting Guide Dogs, from donating money to bringing up puppies. For more information, visit www.guidedogs.org.uk

Annie Lathaen

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