Before you read this blog post, could you do me a favour (I know, you’re only just getting to know me and I’m asking you for a favour already!) But bear with me. Close your eyes and count to ten (no peeking!!) What do you see when you open your eyes? Your dog? Your spouse? Your TV?!! Well imagine when you opened your eyes, you didn’t see again? Or if you never had the opportunity to see those things? Blindness and visual impairment affects approximately 2 million, with many more likely to be affected in the future.
With this can come feelings of anxiety, isolation and stress from everyday tasks which, if you’re privileged with good eyesight, you may take for granted (I know I do). Thankfully Guide Dogs, a charity created in 1931 has helped over 29,000 people and I was lucky enough to not only visit their National Breeding Centre but also meet an inspiring man who has benefited from a guide dog for many years and learn firsthand how dogs really can help change lives. Come and join me and hear all about it in Part One about Guide Dogs (and not that you should need temptation to read further, but if you need to be swayed, I can guarantee pictures of PUPPIES!!) What’s not to like…?!!
NATIONAL BREEDING CENTRE
All dogs are very special (obviously!) but it takes an extra special dog to be a Guide Dog. This is based on temperament and willingness to do the job so that they enjoy their role. The majority tend to be Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, all of which are readily recognised as brilliant ambassadors for Guide Dogs. In order to help provide the most suitable dogs for this important role, the National Breeding Centre (NBC) was opened in 2011 with the aim of producing the very best Guide Dogs for the future. During this time over 6,055 (at last count!) have been born! They’re not cheap either! Do you know, it costs £50,000 to look after a guide dog during their lifetime (and they do this, sadly like many others, without any government funding; the mind boggles!!) If the pups aren’t used by Guide Dogs they can also help in many other ways such as becoming police dogs! So many incredible uses (as well as being simply adorable!)
The Centre offers weekly tours, so if you want to visit yourself, details can be found at the end of this blog post. Needless to say, SPOILER ALERT right ahead (!!) so if you do intend to go, you may wish to skip a little further along the post!
There were approximately 20 people on my tour from all different ages ranges. After a short video about just some of the work Guide Dogs do, we were split into two groups and were accompanied by two volunteers and a guide dog, which in our case was lovely 2 year old boy Yogi (pictured) who is a rather handsome Stud dog (he must think he’s got the best job of all!!)
As we walked, the volunteers provided helpful facts and it was a very interactive experience. None more so than when we were given the option to walk through the Sensory Tunnel; with a blindfold provided, we were individually guided to the entrance and asked to walk through. There were various sounds such as car horns and different textures on the wall. It was a great way of making the point of how being without sight can make you feel. Disorientated, apprehensive and overwhelmed are just some of the ways I felt when walking inside.
Once through, we were shown a variety of harnesses used by Guide Dogs (the choice depends on both human and dog preference) and we were given the opportunity to handle one too. It’s amazing to see how they have been adapted through the years and shows how Guide Dogs are continuously evolving and adapting in many ways to help both dogs and humans.
While we were looking, we even met a guide dog of the future (and one that’s particularly special!) This was another Stud dog (Rembrandt) who is a lovely Poodle (another breed Guide Dogs are trialling as they’re also known for a great temperament). He was 5 months old and fully enjoying interacting with us all in the Centre. What a treat!!
As we continued our journey around the Centre, we were shown additional videos about Guide Dogs, such as how they depend on their network of volunteers and donations as well as individual success stories. If you’d like to know how you can help or be involved, details can be found at the end of this post. You could even become a puppy socialiser (wouldn’t that be a dream come true!!) As this week is #RememberACharityWeek and as two out of three Guide Dogs wouldn’t be here without the generous gifts from wills, this is something you may also wish to consider. On a lighter note, I think you’ve been patient enough…it’s the part you’ve been waiting for. It’s PUPPY TIME!!!
AND THEY CALL IT PUPPY LOVE…
To avoid you turning too green with envy, I must point out, we were unable to cuddle the puppies as it’s important that they’re not overwhelmed and as they’re so young, you need to consider the risk of disease (understandable!) although seeing them so close reminds me of the times I try to tell myself I can’t have chocolate (you know it’s something you have to do, but boy oh boy, is it tough!!) That didn’t stop me from taking photos and we were lucky enough to even witness dinner time (while their mum had a break!!) Whilst these pups were born at the Centre, most are actually born away from there (although the mum and dads come from the Centre). It comes back to the importance of volunteers, as they’re needed to home the mother and help with the birth and care of the puppies for the first few weeks (sign me up!) although seriously, it’s a big commitment and there are many other ways to be involved.
There are four separate areas for the puppies at the NBC:
1. A whelping area if a dog needs to give birth at the Centre (e.g due to a medical issue or if a volunteer is away so the dog is unable to be monitored at home).
2. An area for the pups to be with mum if they were born at the Centre, although an extra area has been carefully designed which only she can step over. This means the mum can escape if she decides she needs some peace! This area sees the pups starting to form personalities and also move from milk to solids. There is always music on so they get used to various noises and members of staff are always close by.
3. An area for the slightly older pups to be when its time to say goodbye to mum; a place where any Guide Dog you see will have been, before they are sent to a foster home (again, with the help of volunteers!!) This is where they then undertake further training and remain until they’re 16-18 months of age and are then ready to start their career as a Guide Dog.
4. The outside play area which provides different surfaces and textures such as grass and Tarmac and LOTS of toys! Fun, fun, fun!
END OF TOUR
The tour ended with a final (and extremely tear jerking!) video about how a Guide Dog became a Buddy Dog (this is when a dog is provided to a child rather than an adult). It goes to show how a guide dog and the careful socialising and training they receive during and after their time at the National Breeding Centre, can really help change lives. To hear a little more about exactly how they change lives, join me soon for Part Two of Guide Dogs: From Puppies to Heroes where I will introduce John and his dog Kahn, so you can hear exactly how these pups become heroes.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a lovely photo of another Guide Dog I met (Firth) who was also another Stud dog at the Centre. Also don’t forget to check out Guide Dogs website below in order to find out even more information about how you can be involved and to also learn more about how the life of a guide dog works (and make sure you book a trip to their centre near Leamington if you can!!) It’s free (donation appreciated), takes two hours of your time and is a brilliant way of experiencing the amazing work at the National Breeding Centre. See you soon with Part Two!
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