For dog lovers Lynda and David Keeley, there is nothing more satisfying than training a cheeky and slightly troublesome puppy into becoming a lifeline for the blind.
The couple from Chorley have just finished training their seventh puppy, 11-month-old golden retriever Tilly, for Guide Dogs, which is based in Atherton, near Wigan, and will no doubt look forward to training another in the near future.
Lynda, 67, who is part of Chorley Guide Dog Fund-raising Group, says: “We have always had dogs. About a year before I retired as practice GP manager at Coppull Medical Practice, our black labrador Ruby died suddenly. I really missed having a dog and thought we would wait until I retired.
“I looked into getting a guide puppy but I realised it needed more commitment than I could give, but the organisation kept my name on file. A year later they rang, asking if I was still interested and I was.
“We got a beautiful dog, Whitney, and we were so enamoured. We were hooked. It is great fun having a young puppy around. They get up to so much mischief and keep you on your toes. It is wonderful seeing the different stages they go through. As you watch them grow up you notice things and you focus on getting them to be well mannered and obey commands.”
Knowing how much time and effort is needed to train a guide dog puppy, Lynda, who has two daughters and two grandchildren, warns people should take it seriously.
She says: “It’s quite a commitment and there is a lot to learn. The reason we didn’t do it straight away is that we didn’t feel we had the time to dedicate to training. You get a lovely little bundle of fluff at seven or so weeks old and they are like any other puppy – full of mischief and you need to look after them and get them to behave.
“When we go out, we have to carry them in our arms until they are fully vaccinated. We take them out and build it up every 10 minutes to get used to noises.” Whilst letting go of a puppy she has had for a year is tough, Lynda says she finds comfort knowing the dog she has trained will change someone’s life.
She says: “It is such a wonderful thing to do. You get all the pleasure of having a dog and see the results of them growing up and knowing you are helping to change somebody’s life and help them become more independent.
“I still keep in touch with one of the dogs, Suzie, and its owner Laura. It is amazing to see the puppy that was once giddy and silly turn into a wonderful guide dog that helps its owner go wherever she wants.
“Before Laura got the dog she would not go anywhere on her own.
“The pleasure of being part of that training is amazing. Guide dogs are a really vital tool for blind or visually impaired people.”
Volunteers are needed for the full time care and education of a Guide Dog pup in their own home from six weeks until approximately 12 to 14 months of age, when they are returned to the charity to begin specialised guide dog training.
Janet Harper, volunteering consultant for Guide Dogs, explains: “We’re looking for enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers who have the time to care for the pups full time.
“The young dogs will spend much of their first year of life living with the puppy walker volunteers in their home; they will teach them basic obedience and get them used to a home environment and noise and the bustle of towns. They will prepare the pup for their working life ahead which includes taking them on public transport including, trains and buses. A young guide dog puppy is a full time companion for its temporary owners, who find it so rewarding to raise a dog who will one day give a person who is blind or partially sighted. Puppy walking is challenging and it’s a real commitment to take a puppy in to your home for a year, but with the support of Guide Dogs staff, our volunteers find it extremely rewarding and worthwhile.”
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.guidedogs.org.uk/puppywalking