Guide dogs making a difference

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    INVERCARGILL woman Andrea Courtney, who has been sight-impaired for 20 years, says her guide dog Sabre has made a dramatic difference to her life.

    “It’s more than gaining a lot more independence,” she said. “Sabre is also an amazing companion, he helps me with my balance and stability and also gives me a sense of security.”

    Before using a guide dog Andrea used a cane, but said Sabre and her previous guide dog, Radar, had enabled her to get about much more quickly and easily.

    “I used to struggle to find a doorway when I used a cane, but with Sabre he guides me through.”

    Andrea has the genetic condition Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, which mainly affects a person’s central vision. Blurring and clouding of vision are usually the first symptoms, with a dramatic loss of sharpness and colour vision. It mainly affects central vision, which is needed for detailed tasks such as reading, driving, recognising faces and seeing colours clearly.

    “It was a gradual vision loss. I have good peripheral vision, but not central. It’s similar to Macular Degeneration… it’s like a furry spot in the middle.”

    Over six months, Andrea’s sight gradually diminished.

    Her first guide dog, Radar, a golden labrador, assisted her for seven years before he retired because of arthritis. She and Sabre had been a team for the past three years.

    Andrea said she appreciated having a guide dog and also thanked the public for donating towards the dog’s breeding and training.

    “The programme is not government funded; it all came from public donations and sponsorship.

    “Puppies need up to two years of thorough training and support from specialist trainers and volunteer puppy walkers,” she said.

    Cherie McClintock, from the Blind Foundation, said guide dogs helped Kiwis who were blind or had low vision carry out day-to-day tasks such as going to and from work, the shops, using public transport and living life daily.

    Although there were many working guide dogs in New Zealand, the waiting list was about a year.

    “The wait time could be greatly reduced if more guide dogs were bred and trained. This is why the Red Puppy Appeal is so important – the more money raised, the more support these heroic animals can give.”Andrea and Sabre will be among other volunteers at various Invercargill supermarkets and the Women’s Expo at ILT Stadium Southland tomorrow and Saturday collecting for the Blind Foundation’s Red Puppy Appeal, which raises funds to support guide dog puppies in training.

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