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05 April, 2016

Hitchhiker's Guide Dog to the galaxy

Eddie walking down a sidewalk with his fifth Guide Dog, a blonde labrador named Missy

Eddie's adventure with a four-legged guide

Eddie Ryan was an avid traveller before an accident caused severe injuries and rendered him blind at the young age of twenty-seven. Determined to not be limited by his disability, Eddie began regaining his independence and mobility with the help of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. Soon after receiving his first Guide Dog, Eddie resumed his travels and spent a year hitchhiking all around New Zealand.

"When I received my first Guide Dog, Lincoln, my world opened up again. I thought to myself, I've travelled around the world before, so why couldn't I do it with a Guide Dog?" said Eddie.

"It was a great trip, and the people I came across were amazed that I was travelling around with a Guide Dog. They'd ask me what on earth a blind person was doing hitchhiking."

A significant milestone, this trip proved to be just the beginning for Eddie. For the last four decades, the Mullumbimby local has lived a full and active life with a Guide Dog by his side. He went to university, obtained a law degree and a diploma of education, and worked as a teacher until 1994.

"With a Guide Dog by my side, I can relax a lot more. They take the stress off getting to places, and once the dog and I both have confidence in each other we can go anywhere together," said Eddie.

Following the retirement of his fourth Guide Dog, Goodwin, in November last year, Eddie has begun his fifth partnership with a beautiful blonde Lab named Missy.

"Missy is a good dog; she is very much on the ball and a really keen learner. As she's my fifth, I'm used to the training process now. The only thing I haven't been able to get my Guide Dogs to do is help me with my crossword puzzles!" said Eddie.

"I've always kept my Guide Dogs after they retire, so right now Goodwin is adjusting to retirement and life with his new friend Missy. They get along well, and like playing tug-o-war together."

Now retired, Eddie spends his time looking after his garden and frog pond, participating in over 50s discussion groups, and studying courses through the University of the Third Age.

As Missy begins to guide Eddie around Mullumbimby and beyond, the pair would like to remind the public to resist the urge to pat or distract a Guide Dog in harness.

"Over the years, people have always come up and patted my Guide Dogs. This can be a huge distraction to the dog, and personally I always prefer people to speak to me first," said Eddie.

"I would like everyone to remember that when a Guide Dog's in harness they're on duty. Even if Missy is lying down at my feet, if she's wearing her harness, she's working."

It costs more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train one Guide Dog. Like all Guide Dogs, Missy and her four predecessors were provided to Eddie at no cost.

As Guide Dogs NSW/ACT receives less than 2 per cent of its funding needs from the government, the organisation relies on the public's generosity to fund its free services.

Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind.