A very special graduation ceremony took place at Pokolbin on Tuesday when six new Guide Dogs were presented with their harnesses.
The ceremony marked the conclusion of intensive training for the Guide Dogs, that will soon be matched with a person who is blind or vision impaired.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has traditionally held its graduation ceremonies at the Western Sydney training centre, but this year decided to share the experience with its regional NSW supporter base and hold the event in the Hunter Valley, which has been a particularly supportive community.
The special presentation at Cypress Lakes Resort also included skill demonstrations, a Puppy Pre-School session, the introduction of a new litter of Labrador puppies and talk from Guide Dog handlers.
The graduating dogs – Wanda, Louisa, Tinker, Keira, Kenzie and Ruffle – each spent five months undergoing intensive training at the Guide Dog Centre, learning how to guide a person with vision impairment safely.
“We have a wonderful group of Guide Dogs graduating today who will soon be matched with a person in the community who is vision impaired and waiting for a Guide Dog,” Guide Dogs NSW/ACT regional manager Belinda Carroll said.
“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.”
Before 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.
Ms Carroll said it costs more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train each Guide Dog, so the presentation is 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.
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,” Ms Carroll said.
Newcastle singer-songwriter 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 the Hunter, having a Guide Dog has allowed Mr McLaren 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,” he said.
Mr McLaren was matched with an energetic yellow Labrador 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.”