In early August, Maitland hosted its very first Guide Dog graduation ceremony, during which six new Guide Dogs were presented with their harnesses.
The first ceremony of its kind in Maitland, the celebration marked the conclusion of intensive training for the life-changing Guide Dogs that will soon be matched with a person who is blind or vision impaired.
Newcastle resident Matt McLaren, who was born blind, has experienced first-hand the independence and mobility a Guide Dog can offer. With the amount of travel required to get to gigs around Newcastle, having a Guide Dog has allowed Matt to maintain an independent, busy life and a thriving music career.
“Having a Guide Dog enables me to do so much more than I could with a cane, such as carry music gear and travel confidently to new places,” Matt said.
Matt was matched with an energetic yellow Lab named Indy in June this year, after his first Guide Dog, Stamford, retired after 10 years of faithful service.
“I always thought it would be difficult to put that much trust in a dog, but both Indy and Stamford have proven me wrong.”
The six Guide Dogs who graduated include three blonde dogs, Wanda, Louisa and Tinker; and three black dogs, Keira, Kenzie and Ruffle. Each dog spent five months undergoing intensive training at the Guide Dog Centre learning how to guide a person with vision impairment safely.
“We had a wonderful group of Guide Dogs graduating who will soon be matched with a person in the community who is vision impaired and waiting for a Guide Dog. Once they are matched, we spend several weeks working closely with the person and their Guide Dog to ensure they form a strong bond of trust,” Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Regional Manager, Belinda Carroll said.
Those who attended the special presentation in Maitland had the opportunity to watch the Guide Dogs demonstrate their skills, enjoy a Puppy Pre-School session, meet the newest litter of Labrador puppies and hear from Guide Dog handlers about how their lives have changed for the better.
Before undergoing intensive training at the Guide Dogs Centre, each Guide Dog is cared for by volunteer Puppy Raisers from eight weeks of age until they are 14 months old and taught basic obedience and showered with love and affection.
“It takes more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train each Guide Dog so the presentation was a celebration of the dedicated training over the past two years to get these life-changing dogs to the all-important working stage of their life,” Belinda said.
Every day in Australia, 28 people are diagnosed with vision loss that cannot be corrected, including nine who will become blind.
“With the demand for Guide Dogs’ services increasing due to growing numbers of people having trouble getting around as a result of vision loss, we’re incredibly grateful for the support we receive from the community,” Belinda said.