Photo credit: Simone de Peak, Newcastle Star
They say dogs are a man’s best friend — and in Newcastle resident Matt McLaren’s case you’d be hard pressed to tell anyone otherwise.
Matt was introduced to an energetic yellow Lab named Indy in June this year, after his first Guide Dog, Stamford, retired after 10 years of faithful service.
“When I met Indy for the first time, he jumped out of the car and was straight away ready to work. He was so active and so keen to get going, it was a really good feeling,” Matt said.
“It reminded me of my first walk with Stamford. That sense of freedom – it’s truly empowering.”
With Stamford now enjoying a well-earned life of leisure, Indy has taken the lead as Matt’s right hand man and has been busy learning his local routes around town.
Just two weeks into their team training, Indy was introduced to a big part of Matt’s life – his music gigs.
“While we did some orientation practice around the venue the day before, I wasn’t sure how Indy would go with the crowds and the loud music at night,” Matt said,
“But he nailed it; the music didn’t bother him at all and he slept for most of the event,” he laughed.
Beyond learning travel routes, a new Guide Dog team must also build trust in each other and establish a bond.
“I always thought it would be really difficult to trust a dog as a guide, but both Indy and Stamford have proven me wrong. They have such amazing personalities; they want to do the right thing and they love to work,” Matt said.
“When you have a Guide Dog you spend 24 hours a day with them and they’re never more than a couple of metres away from you. It’s a special bond,” he said.
Photo credit: Matt McLaren
With Indy’s arrival, Matt is not the only one who’s gained a new friend.
“Stamford gets along great with Indy. Their beds are right next to each other and the other day I caught them snuggling together. It’s definitely a bromance,” Matt said.
It takes over two years and costs more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train one Guide Dog.
Dogs that successfully complete the rigorous Guide Dog training program are matched with a potential handler. This is an important process, with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Orientation and Mobility Instructors ensuring that the dog is well-suited to the person’s specific lifestyle and travel needs.