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12 December, 2016

Christmas comes early for Coffs Harbour local

Guide Dog Boss in harness sitting on the grass, smiling at the camera.

Matt Preo receives the pawfect present

Matt Preo standing next to his new Guide Dog, BossChristmas has come early this year for Coffs Harbour resident Matt Preo with the arrival of his first Guide Dog, a beautiful black Labrador named Boss. 

“It’s not just independence that Boss has given me, but companionship too. He’s the greatest Christmas present,” Matt said.

Matt was born blind in his left eye with 95% vision in his right. Three years ago, his remaining vision began deteriorating due to Optic Nerve Atrophy.

“I started tripping up gutters and missing steps, so I contacted my ophthalmologist. They told me I could be completely blind within five years,” Matt said.

“It was tough because there was nothing they could do, but I became focused on how I could manage and how I could increase my independence.”

“I called Guide Dogs on the Friday, and by Monday I had someone at my house teaching me how to use a long cane,” he said.

Matt received Orientation and Mobility training from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT so that he could get around his local community safely and independently. After becoming proficient using the long cane, he decided to apply for a Guide Dog.

“I thought it would be a good idea to start training with a Guide Dog while I still have some residual vision, so that the transition would be easier once I become totally blind. It just felt like the next step,” Matt said. 

With Boss now by his side, Matt’s life has changed dramatically.

“I’m much more mobile now. Compared to the cane, which used to get stuck in the grass, walking with Boss is so much smoother,” Matt said.

“Boss has also become such a big part of my life. He’s a part of my daily routine, and while a Guide Dog might seem like a lot more work, it’s worth it because of the level of trust you put in them. I guess that’s why they’re worth the $35,000 it costs to breed, raise and train each one.”

“He’s so awesome and he’s given me so much. I couldn’t imagine my life without him now.”

With the festive season around the corner, Matt is looking forward to spending his first Christmas with Boss. 

“It’s going to be fantastic. We have all the family coming over this year, so my children who have left home will get to meet him,” Matt said.

“I think there will be more love this year because of Boss. Everyone who meets him has a smile on their face. He just looks at you with those big brown eyes and tongue hanging out; you can’t help but love him.”

As an avid guitar player, Matt has written a song to honour his new four-legged companion. You can listen to it here.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Regional Manager, Jeremy Hill, said there are 28 people across NSW and the ACT waiting to receive a Guide Dog this Christmas.

"With growing numbers of people having trouble getting around as a result of vision loss, the demand for Guide Dogs services is ever increasing," he said.

"As we receive less than two per cent of our funding needs from the government, we rely on the public's generosity to fund our services, which are all provided at no cost to those who need them."