A well-earned retirement
Bear is ready to enjoy a life of leisure
After walking about 9,000 kilometres and ignoring distractions, navigating obstacles and travelling to all corners of Albury, Guide Dog, Bear, has earned his retirement.
With the 10-year-old dog beginning to suffer from arthritis in his hips and shoulders, handler Daniel Searle made the heart-breaking decision to hang up his first Guide Dog's harness.
"Unfortunately he can't work and walk like he would like to, I just had to make the decision that it was the right time for both of us," Daniel said.
Guide Dogs usually retire between eight to 10 years, depending on their health.
However, the decision will not mean the end of Daniel and Bear's journey together.
"Well luckily you do get a say over what happens to your Guide Dog when it retires and I made the decision to keep him as a retired dog," he said.
"Bear now spends his days going on casual walks, sunbaking on the balcony, lying on the grass, watching the world go by and of course sleeping."
Daniel and Bear first started working together in September 2007 and since then have become an inseparable pair, who are well known in the Albury community.
With Bear by his side, Daniel has celebrated many milestones.
"Whether it was my first year at Uni, my first placement, my graduation, my first job, my first tour with the Australian blind cricket team or my first triathlon, Bear has been there and has given me the confidence to explore new challenges," he said.
Having lost his sight at age 16, Daniel had to make a quick adjustment to life and study without vision.
"My sight loss occurred very suddenly, over a couple of months at the start of year 10," he said.
"It was a genetic condition, but we had no idea it was in our family. It was a huge shock at the time. I was living at home on the family farm about 10kms out of Barham NSW, so it was quite isolating. I didn't know anything about being vision impaired. I was initially very unsure about what it would mean for my study and moving out of home etc."
Daniel did finish school and moved to Albury to commence studying physiotherapy.
It was at this point that Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, the leading provider of Guide Dogs and services that enable people with impaired vision to get around their communities safely and independently, raised the possibility of getting a Guide dog.
"I was initially unsure. It's crazy but I thought, I didn't deserve a dog and felt guilty that I would be taking it away from someone who needed it more than me," Daniel said.
"I have grown up around dogs and love them but was a little naive about how a dog could help."
However it didn't take long for Daniel to be convinced and after a six month wait he got a call to say Guide Dogs had a dog that was suitable.
"They told me that they put a lot of effort in with matching the dog to the person. Given there is such a significant investment in the dogs as it costs more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train each one, Guide Dogs want to ensure it is a good match."
Daniel didn't have much information about the dog he was about to receive.
"I was given a start date for training and I had to fly to Sydney to train for two weeks. On the initial application I was given the option to say if I had a preference regarding male/female, labrador/golden retriever or black/white, but to all these questions I said I wasn't fussed. I was happy to get whatever dog they thought was most suitable," he said.
Daniel said he was incredibly excited when he learnt he was getting a chocolate labrador called Bear. "I thought, what a cool name," he said.
"I can't say it was love at first-sight or even that it was an instant bond."
"It took us a good couple of months to establish our bond but once we did I was constantly amazed by how he helped me and how much he loved who he was. He was forever desperate to do right for me. Even up until his last couple of months of work he was still amazing me with his memory of travel routes."
The story of Daniel and Bear even became the subject of a Guide Dogs NSW/ACT fundraising campaign.
After making the decision to retire, Bear, Daniel wanted to turn the sad occasion into a happy one.
"I came up with the idea to host a party in honour of Bear's retirement and use it as an opportunity to raise some awareness of the free orientation and mobility services offered by Guide Dogs. Most importantly I wanted to raise funds for Guide Dogs," he said.
"I was overwhelmed with the response from my friends and family and even some people I had not met. I think people saw what a difference Bear had made to my life and were only too happy to help. In the end I raised $3140, for Guide dogs NSW/ACT, nowhere near the $35,000 it costs to raise and train a dog, but hopefully some small part in training the next generation of Guide Dogs.
"It was well beyond anything I would have expected and I must say a huge thanks to everyone who supported us. Equally it seems like the perfect opportunity to thank Guide Dogs for all the wonderful work they do and most importantly, thanks to Bear."
With Bear now taking it easy, Daniel has started training with his new Guide Dog, Frodo.
After two months the pair are building trust with each other and developing a strong bond to ensure they can successfully work together.
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.
Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind.
For more information about Guide Dogs, visit guidedogs.com.au