Ellen walks on a suburban street with her Guide Dog Darcy

Elaine Heskett describes her Guide Dog, Darcy as her “eyes and constant companion”. The two-year-old dog has given her the independence to lead a very busy life and has learnt the route to the bank, bus, hairdressers, post office and CWA in a very short period of time.

“He is already an honorary member of the CWA and is found most Thursdays and Saturdays curled up under the desk in the craft shop,” she said of the dog she affectionately refers to as Mr Darcy.

Mrs Heskett received Darcy in March this year thanks to the support of NSW Taxi Council drivers who have donated to Guide Dogs NSW/ACT following training days. In the past 10 years, 10,000 drivers have undertaken the program and together raised the $35,000 it takes to breed, raise and train each Guide Dog. Last Tuesday, Mrs Heskett and Darcy were special guests at the Taxi Council’s 10th anniversary of specialised training.

The NSW Taxi Council facilitates training seminars for taxi drivers in their first year with presentations from a variety of organisations and government agencies including Roads and Maritime Services, the NSW Police, Workcover and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.

“I want to emphasise how much Guide Dogs have done for me and the wonderful service they provide free of charge to all who need it,” Mrs Heskett told the drivers. “The organisation receives less than 2% of funding from the government and continue their good work only by the generosity of their corporate sponsors, fundraising efforts, bequeaths and donations. They are only ever a phone call away and they visit regularly to make sure all is going well. With their help it is possible to continue to live a meaningful and worthwhile life even if you have no or very little sight.”

Darcy is Mrs Heskett’s second Guide Dog. Her first dog, Evelyn, was retired due to ill health. She said when she travelled to meet Darcy for a two-week intensive training program at the Guide Dogs Centre she was a bit anxious, but really didn’t need to be.

“Darcy himself went a long way towards making the experience relaxed and enjoyable as he was just so laid back and picked up everything expected of him with no problem at all,” she said.

Mrs Heskett said Darcy allowed her to navigate in busy places at a steady speed. “He allows me to walk upright and to use the little sight I have to orientate myself in my environment instead of only seeing a bit of the ground immediately in front of my cane,” she said. “When he is in harness he is constantly watching the way ahead and also making allowance for any obstacles such as tree branches at head height. He helps me walk up and down steps, find doorways and refuses to cross a road or driveway even if I have told him to go if there is any danger from traffic.”

When at home, Darcy and retired Guide Dog, Evelyn have become the best of friends. “From day one there has never been a cross growl between them. They play together, sleep together, and eat together. Darcy seems to know she has a problem and he is very gentle with her,” she said.

Mrs Heskett said she was very grateful to the support of the NSW Taxi Council. “Darcy has given back my independence and the freedom to get out and about on my own and to do the things I enjoy. He has made it possible for my husband and family to be less anxious about me when I am out on my own,” she said.

The NSW Taxi Industry has a strong focus on providing safe, efficient and comfortable services for people, including passengers with vision impairment and passengers travelling with Guide Dogs.

Jennifer Moon, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Community Education Coordinator, said at every taxi driver training seminar, a person with vision impairment talks to taxi drivers about their own experiences in a taxi. Drivers are also taught skills to assist passengers with vision impairment.

CEO of the NSW Taxi Council, Roy Wakelin-King, said that the partnership between NSW Taxi Council and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT perfectly emphasises the importance of trained, professional taxi drivers.

“Our mission is to educate drivers about their responsibility to provide the best possible customer service.

Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind. Guide Dogs NSW/ACT offers services to clients for free and relies on community support to continue to assist people like Mrs Heskett live independent lives.