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Thursday, 25 April 2019 09:51 pm

Puppy walkers are helping guide dogs to take their first steps

PUPPY walker Jo Brown’s ultimate goal is to see her puppy, Ned, help give a better quality of life to someone who is blind or has low vision.

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Jo Brown sits with Nasa, who like her puppy, Ned, is destined for guide dog training.

After 18 months of love and attention, the Blind Foundation’s puppy walkers are almost ready to let their puppies go to become fully fledged guide dogs.

In two months’ time the puppies will be sent to Auckland to begin guide dog training.

“It will be very hard to say goodbye, but I know what he is going to do and I know I’m not just giving him up. I’m giving him back to do something pretty amazing,” Brown says.

Puppy walkers receive their dogs when they are eight to 10 weeks old and introduce them to situations they will encounter in their future role.

“As puppy walkers we do everyday living. Trains, planes all these sorts of things. Food courts, traffic, pretty much everyday stuff that a blind person would do,” Brown says.

Brown says the puppies quickly learn they are there to do a job.

“Once he’s got his jacket on he knows he’s working.”

Though the puppies are with their walkers to train, Brown says they become part of the family.

“When he gets home and takes his jacket off, he’s just a normal dog. He goes to the beach, he goes to dog parks, he plays, he’s just a family dog when he gets home.”

Chris Orr, Access and Awareness Adviser for the Blind Foundation, who is blind and has experience with guide dogs says the puppy walking stage is extremely important.

“If the guide dog has been well socialised, it makes the life of a blind person a hell of a lot easier,” he says.

Once the puppies leave their walkers they spend six months harness training in Auckland where they are assessed for their temperament and ability.

Only about 50 percent of puppies in the programme go on to become guide dogs.

Dogs that do not complete the program are offered to other services such as the Ministry of Primary Industries, Aviation Security or can become mobility or assistance dogs.

Anyone interested in becoming a puppy walker can register their interest by contacting the Guide Dog Puppy Development Programme.

 

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