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30 June, 2016

Student learns the paw-fect lesson

Brie sitting in the garden with Unix, a black Labrador puppy, on her lap.

When Brie Rigby, a year ten student at Monte Sant' Angelo Mercy College, had to pick a new skill to learn as part of a school project, she knew just what would be the paw-fect lesson.

As an avid dog lover, the Drummoyne local decided to raise a Guide Dog puppy, and in February this year she received Unix, an eight week old black Labrador from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.

"When we picked Unix up from the Guide Dogs Centre I was so excited, he was just so cute," said Brie.

"That's when the Guide Dog Puppy Raising Officers went through the training manual with us, which included things like vaccinations, worming, and tips on how to raise him."

Three and a half months later, Unix has well and truly settled into the Rigby family. As well as providing him with lots of love and tummy scratches, Brie and her family have been busy training and socialising the beautiful black pup.

"We've taught him basic puppy obedience like sit, drop, stay and come, but lately we've been focusing on walking skills. This has been a little trickier because he definitely prefers going to the park for a play," said Brie.

"There's also another black Lab that lives next door that we used to take him to go see when he was little, so now when we try to take him for walks, it's hard to get him to walk past that house!"

As part of her school project, Brie is also creating a promotional documentary about Guide Dogs. Recently, she had the opportunity to meet and interview Allan Pronger, a Guide Dog handler and Public Relations speaker for the organisation, and his Guide Dog Archie.

"When I used to think of Guide Dogs I always pictured them to be so well-behaved that they can't have fun or run around," said Brie.

"But when I met Alan, he showed me that whenever Archie didn't have his harness on he was just like any other dog. There was such a change in his behaviour, it was very insightful" she said.

"That's when I realised that Guide Dogs have such a good life. They're never left at home because they're always with their handler, and they also get play to play just like normal dogs."

As a first time Puppy Raiser for Guide Dogs, Brie has already found the experience to be both eye-opening and rewarding. While Unix still has quite some time left with the Rigby family, Brie understands that she will one day have to say goodbye to her new four-legged friend so that he can go on to change the life of someone, like Allan, who is vision impaired.

"It will be sad, I'm already so attached, but knowing that he's going to be helping someone makes it much easier to do," she said.

It takes almost two years and costs more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train a Guide Dog and Puppy Raisers play a critical part in developing a playful puppy into a responsible Guide Dog.

The Puppy Raiser's role involves toilet training, teaching basic obedience and social skills, daily walks on a lead and introducing the pup to the sights, sounds and smells it is likely to encounter as a working Guide Dog.

"Puppy Raisers need to have a fully-fenced yard, be away from home no more than four hours at a time, have access to a car and attend training days once a month in the local area," Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Puppy Raising Manager, Karen Hayter said.

The Puppy Raiser and their pup also regularly visit the Guide Dogs Centre at Glossodia for vet checks and Puppy Pre-School.

Guide Dogs provide food, veterinary care, flea and tick prevention and the team is on hand to answer any questions and provide guidance.

At 14 months of age, Unix will return to the Guide Dogs Centre as a confident, well-mannered, young adult dog to undertake formal training and be assessed for his suitability as a Guide Dog.

There are an estimated 300,000 Australians with uncorrectable vision loss, 100,000 of whom live in NSW and the ACT. These figures are predicted to increase by more than 50% by 2030, so there is a huge demand for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT's free services.

If you would like to become a Puppy Raiser for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT please apply online at www.guidedogs.com.au or call the Guide Dogs Centre at Glossodia on 4579 7555.