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22 December, 2017

Christmas comes early for Grafton radio presenter

Phil kneeling down next to his Guide Dog Wanda, a yellow Labrador, in the radio studio.

Christmas has come early this year for Grafton radio presenter Phil Kennedy with the arrival of his first Guide Dog, a beautiful yellow Labrador named Wanda. 

Phil was diagnosed with Optic Nerve Atrophy at seven years old and while he has been legally blind his whole life, his sight has continued to deteriorate over the years. 

“Over the last two years or so I noticed it was becoming harder to cross streets and judge traffic, which was having an impact on my mobility and my safety,” Phil said.

Phil 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 found that using a cane really put me on edge, just because I was constantly bumping into things and other people,” Phil said.

With Guide Dog Wanda now by his side, Phil’s independence and freedom of mobility has changed dramatically.

“Wanda is great at steering me around obstacles, so I don’t have to worry anymore about bumping into things. She’s made it so much easier to get around and I feel like I can relax a lot more,” Phil said.

Like Phil and Wanda, once a Guide Dog and a person are matched with one another, the new team needs to build trust and establish a bond, as well as learn how to travel together.

“Putting my trust in Wanda was something that I found quite easy to do. She’s a great dog and she’s settled in really well both at home and at work,” Phil said.

“We’ve just completed our training together with a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, which involved Wanda learning my usual travel routes around town,” he said.

“So far she knows how to guide me from home to my work, and from work to the shopping centre for my coffee and lunch breaks. We’ll continue to increase these routes over time.”

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Regional Manager, Jeremy Hill, said that all Guide Dog programs are tailored to meet the lifestyle needs of each individual, and most training is undertaken locally, in the person’s home, community or work environment.

“Our instructors travel to wherever our services are required,” Mr Hill said.

“We come to you, wherever that may be - your home, your workplace, your school or university – helping you learn to find your way around your particular environment is a top priority.”

With the festive season just around the corner, Phil is looking forward to spending his first Christmas with Wanda. 

“I’m not sure what I’ll get her yet, but I have a feeling there will be a ball-shaped present under the Christmas tree this year,” Phil said.

Like all Guide Dogs, it cost more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train Wanda before she was provided to Phil at no cost.

“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 three per cent of our funding 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.”