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30 March, 2017

Matt McLaren’s first Guide Dog, retires

Matt kneels beside Stamford, who is lying down and smiling up at the camera.

After walking about 9,000 kilometres and ignoring distractions, navigating obstacles and travelling to all corners of Newcastle and beyond, Guide Dog, Stamford, has earned his retirement.  

With the 11-year-old dog beginning to slow down due to old age, handler Matt McLaren made the heart-breaking decision to hang up his first Guide Dog’s harness.

“Over the past few months he’s been getting slower and he can’t do long days anymore,” Matt said.

“It’s hard because he still wants to work, I’ll pick up the harness and he’ll jump up ready to go, but he needs to rest. I think we both know it’s the right time.”

Guide Dogs usually retire between eight to 10 years, depending on their health.

However, the decision will not mean the end of their journey together, with Stamford continuing to live with Matt as a much-loved pet.

“It was never a question whether I would keep Stamford as a pet after he retires. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Matt said. 

Matt and Stamford first started working together in January 2008 and since then have become an inseparable pair, who are well known in the Newcastle community.

“It was definitely love at first sight, I mean, just look at him!” Matt said.

With the amount of travel required to get to gigs around Newcastle, having Stamford allowed Matt to maintain an independent, busy life and a thriving music career.

“Stamford enabled me to do so much more than I could with a long cane, such as carry music gear and travel confidently to new places,” said Matt.

“I always thought it would be difficult to put that much trust in an animal, but receiving Stamford completely changed that. He was so confident, and straight away knew what to do. It was truly liberating.”

With Stamford by his side, Matt has celebrated many milestones.

“He came to America with me for a two-month tour across the states in 2014. That was a highlight and also a challenge for him and for me,” Matt said.

“From all the gigs and the travelling, Stamford has been by my side during a very interesting part of my life and my career. He’s been that one constant for me.”

The blond Labrador is even recognised across Australia, due to Matt’s success on Channel Nine’s Australia’s Got Talent in 2016.

Matt, who will be receiving a new Guide Dog from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT shortly, admits that he’s uncertain how Stamford will adjust to retirement life.

“Stamford will enjoy his retirement but I think he’ll definitely be jealous when I get my new Guide Dog. He’s never been left at home and he’s used to going everywhere with me, but I know he’ll get past it. Before no time he’ll be a professional sleeper.”

With Stamford hanging up his harness, Matt says he has mixed feelings about receiving his new Guide Dog.

“I’m looking forward to getting a bit more of my independence back, which is something I lost a bit with Stamford as he’s been slowing down,” Matt said.

“There are also things I’ve learnt that I’ll do differently with my next dog, so it’s exciting to have that fresh start, but of course, it’s very bittersweet.”

Matt said that one thing he is certain about is that his next Guide Dog will have very big paws to fill.

“Stamford has kept up with a very chaotic period in my life and he’s done an incredible job. I wouldn’t be where I am today without his help. I wouldn’t have my independence.  Everything I’ve achieved and everything I have is all thanks to him,” Matt said.

After making the decision to retire Stamford, Matt wanted to turn the sad occasion into a happy one.

“I hosted a party in honour of Stamford’s retirement and used it as an opportunity to raise some funds for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT,” Matt said.

“I wanted to celebrate Stamford’s life and his work but I also wanted to give something back to Guide Dogs. As an organisation they’ve done an incredible amount for me over the years.”

“Even before I received Stamford, they gave me orientation and mobility support and a long cane to get around. It’s hard to describe the scope of what they’ve done for me.”

Matt hosted Stamford’s retirement party and fundraiser at the Criterion Pub & Kitchen in Carrington on Sunday, 26 March. 

Like all Guide Dogs, Stamford cost more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT receives less than two per cent of its funding needs from the government, and is financially dependent on the generosity of the people of NSW and the ACT.

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