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16 September, 2016

Margaret appointed PR Speaker

Margaret sitting on the grass with Guide Dog, Desiree

Ready to inspire and educate

A Cromer woman, who affectionately refers to her Guide Dog as a member of the family, has been appointed as a Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Public Relations Speaker.

Margaret Booth, who will talk about how she manages her life after vision loss and the many different ways anyone with vision impairment can be assisted to live an independent life as part of her new role, says her Guide Dog, Desiree is her “lifeline”.

“First she is my mobility aid, but she’s also a part of me, like my second family. I couldn’t do it without her,” she said.

“People don’t realise the freedom a Guide Dog brings to someone who is vision impaired. When I received my first Guide Dog, I remember feeling like I could fly. Suddenly I could walk fast again.”

“Leaving the house wasn’t such a hardship as I no longer needed to rely on others. I also started to go to places I previously was not confident to go.”

Margaret was diagnosed with the genetic eye condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa, when she was just four-years-old, the same eye condition her mother has. “The doctors actually knew before this time, but they didn’t want to tell my Mum,” she explained.

As a child she grew up watching the independence and confidence a Guide Dog gave her Mum, knowing that one day she too may use a Guide Dog. “I can’t remember a time that I haven’t had a Guide Dog in my life,” she said.

It was during Margaret’s high school years that her sight began to deteriorate rapidly and she was enrolled into the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children. 

Matilda walks into Margaret's life

After learning how to use a long cane through a program tailored by a Guide Dogs Orientation & Mobility Specialist, Margaret received her first Guide Dog, Matilda in 1989.

Matilda came into Margaret’s life about 18 months before she had her first child. “She made it easy. I used a front baby pack when my children were really tiny and when they were larger I’d use the back baby pack. We’d go and catch the buses, and the dog would help guide me so I could get the children wherever we wanted to go. We would go all kinds of places,” she said.

It was around this time that Margaret was chosen for a segment focusing on the role of working animals on children’s television show, Play School. Margaret was filmed using a pram tow while walking with her Guide Dog. “That segment showed for years after that. When my daughter was 10 people were still coming up and saying I saw you on Play School – she is now 26.” 

Years later, her fourth Guide Dog, Desiree, a quiet blonde Labrador, is always by her side.

“As a Guide Dog, Desiree has been a great worker.  She’s a very polite and gentle dog, which probably makes up for me, because I’m far too noisy!,” she said. “As soon as you bring out the harness she’s jumping around, let’s go, let’s go.”
 
“When she was younger she couldn’t stand to be at home as she just wanted to be out and about. Sometimes my husband would take her out for a drive in the car to satisfy her need to be moving,” she said.

Margaret said many people ask her how she got such an intelligent dog that remembers so many travel routes. “She is just one of those dogs,” she said.

An administration officer, Margaret is a keen to illustrate to the community that people who are vision impaired can do anything they set their minds to. After finishing school she undertook a secretarial course and Tafe before working for the Commonwealth Bank for nine years. During her career she has also taught people how to use computers.

Sharing her vision loss story

As a Public Relations Speaker for Guide Dogs, the leading provider of Guide Dogs and other services that enable people with impaired vision to get around their communities safely and independently, Margaret will attend training seminars as well as campaigns and media events, schools, clubs, seniors and other community groups.

“I am looking forward to educating the community about Guide Dogs,” Margaret said.

“I particularly want to educate the community to not distract a working Guide Dog in harness, as they are undertaking a very important role in guiding someone who is vision impaired,” she said.  

Its costs more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train each Guide Dog and with the organisation receiving less than two per cent of its funding needs from the government, Guide Dogs relies on the generosity of the community to continue offering its services to those who need them at no cost.

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

To book Margaret for a talk, please email, speakers [at] guidedogs.com.au