Guide dog graduates

By Grace Jones | posted on September 7, 2018

HAVING the freedom and independence to stroll to the shops isn’t as simple as it seems for vision-impaired people.

While it may seem like an everyday chore for most, for the vision-impaired stepping out their front door raises serious safety concerns.

For Albany local Glenn Wilson, the reality of slowly losing his sight due to a form of macular dystrophy was made apparent in his 30s, but wasn’t diagnosed by an optometrist until his 40s.

“My eyesight has deteriorated to be able to count fingers in my left eye and having big holes in my vision in my right eye,” he said.

“I have problems with my distances and can’t see details very well.”

With his eyesight deteriorating, Mr Wilson decided to start the process of applying for assistance in the form of a guide dog.

“It took me around three and a half years to get Obie,” he said.

“The dog is matched to the person so if there isn’t a dog out there that suits you, you don’t get one.”

After the many weeks spent training Obie through a guide dog trainer and further training with Mr Wilson, the Labrador was finally put in her harness and put to work.

“It changed things that’s for sure,” he said.

“I’m used to having dogs as pets, but there definitely was an adjustment to having Obie with me at all times and everywhere I go.”

Mr Wilson said getting around town had become safer since having Obie by his side.

“You can’t rely on her 100 per cent of the time because she is a dog and can get distracted,” he said.

“What we do though is encourage intelligent disobedience which is where she knows to stop when a car is coming.

“It doesn’t always work when drivers try to let me cross. But I wave them on so Obie isn’t confused.”

Mr Wilson said that he hadn’t been confronted negatively by any shop owners or establishments since having Obie but had instances where people have tried to pet her.

“You absolutely can’t assume that you can pet a working dog while she’s in her harness,” he said.

“It distracts her from looking out for me and gets her in to the habit of seeking attention when she should be concentrating on me.

“It’s okay to come up and ask me to pet her, I’ll still say no but I’ll also explain why.”

Obie and Mr Wilson will head to Perth in a couple of weeks to attend the Guide Dogs WA graduation ceremony.

Guide Dogs WA Deputy Chief Executive Officer Debra Barnes said the graduation of a guide dog was a special occasion.

“It’s a landmark event to celebrate the loyal and devoted friendship between the dog and their owner,” she said.