Guide dog takes Mercury reporter for a walk
PUBLISHED: 13:00 04 October 2015
We WALK past guide dogs and their owners most days without giving much thought about what they are doing.
But the close relationship between the dog and their owner means blind and
partially-sighted people are safe while walking through town.
Guide Dogs Week is taking place this week to help raise awareness and money for the charity which supports them.
It costs the Guide Dogs charity £50,000 to train and support a working dog during its lifetime.
Reporter Sarah Robinson put on a blindfold and went out with guide dog trainer Emma Yard and guide dog Vesey in Weston to learn more about how the dogs work and how important it is for people to keep pavements free of cars and other obstructions.
I put the blindfold on, and suddenly I could not remember where I was in the streets I walk along every week.
All I knew was I was in the centre of the pavement, and I needed to put my faith and trust in guide dog Vesey.
For me, this was just a short walk around the Boulevard, Orchard Meadows and the High Street, but for blind and partially-sighted people, it can be a challenge – but these dogs make a huge difference to their lives every day.
Vesey has just completed the first part of his training, and was due to go to his new home the very next day.
He has been trained to walk in a straight line, stop on the side of the road and halt for other obstacles, such as cars on the pavement, bins and shop advertising.
Before my walk, Neil Howe, community engagement officer in the South West for the Guide Dogs charity, told me: “This will give an introduction into how it feels to be put your trust in a guide dog, and to actually let him take you along.”
It was not easy at first. I had to stand behind Vesey and walk more slowly than usual. I was also worried about accidentally kicking him.
To begin with, it was disorientating when people walked past, and I could hear them talking to Vesey. But without the benefit of my sight, it was hard to tell what their intentions were, or if they were stepping aside to give myself and Vesey room to walk past.
But as I went on, things I would usually ignore came into focus. Every dip in the pavement was more pronounced, and I could feel gutters and uneven bricks under my feet. I could hear the rustling of shopping bags as we walked past people, and conversations I would usually ignore became a lot more audible.
And while I was adjusting to my lack of vision, Vesey was a consummate professional, stopping only for his own curiosity when walking past a bird shop on the corner.
It was only a short half-hour walk, but I soon became a lot more in tune with Vesey. When he weaved right, I did too. When he stopped, I did.
His training means he knows when to stop at the side of the road, and when to stop for obstacles.
One new thing I learned while out with Vesey was the guide dog owners are responsible for when they cross the road and not the dog. But the dogs will stop if a car is in the road, and people are encouraged to cross at controlled crossings.
Vesey is definitely prepared for life as a guide dog. I felt confident with him, and it was easy to be led by him.
But I was lucky. I had trainer Emma with me, and she could tell me what obstacles were in front of me and when there was a slight incline on the pavement.
Without that extra support, I probably would have smacked my arm against a pole or walked into a bin, and this only emphasised how important it is for people to think about others when putting objects on the pavement.
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