A day in the life of a Seeing Eye Dog owner
For most of us, walking down a busy street or going to the shops are simple tasks we take for granted. However, for those with low or no vision, these everyday tasks can be difficult without some help.
Vision Australia’s Seeing Eye Dogs helps bring independence to someone living with blindness or low vision by teaming them up with a Seeing Eye Dog. There are currently 218 Seeing Eye Dogs supporting their handlers to go about in their daily lives, working, traveling and participating in the community.
How does a Seeing Eye Dog help?
Before Sophie was paired with her Seeing Eye Dog, Yarra, she was reliant on her cane and husband, Jermaine, to get about. Her low vision meant she found it difficult to complete even the simplest of tasks.
“Walking down the street in the city was difficult,” says Sophie.
“I used to try and do this when I had a visibility cane, but people usually took no notice and I would get so anxious that I would trip or bump into people. I can do so much more now I have Yarra.”
It wasn't just crossing roads and walking down busy streets that were a challenge, either. Getting on and off public transport was difficult without needing assistance from other people. However now Sophie has Yarra, she has regained her independence and that has brought back her confidence.
“I can get to and from work without much help and this has made a huge difference to my daily life,” she says. “I used to hate going anywhere in the dark so avoided it as much as I could – unless my husband was able to come with me. I can walk down the street with confidence, go to the shops, visit friends – I can do anything, any time of the day or night.”
What does a day look like for a Seeing Eye Dog?
Sophie and Yarra have a unique bond that sees them spend almost every minute of the day together.
“We step out the door every day and take on the world,” says Sophie.
On a normal workday, Sophie and Yarra will catch the tram together in the morning and head to the 35th floor of Sophie’s office building.
“We have to go in the lift but this doesn’t bother Yarra. She gets a treat every time she shows me where the panel is to press the button,” she says.
While Sophie works, Yarra spends her time sleeping under her desk and on her breaks, has a little playtime with Sophie’s work colleagues. At lunch the pair will meet friends or stroll to the local park where Yarra sheds her harness and has a free run.
“Sometimes we’ll pop into the supermarket on the way back. This is Yarra’s favourite part of the day – so many wonderful smells! She often tries to help ‘choose’ items on the lower shelves, so I have to tell her I don’t want them, thank you very much.”
The afternoon passes just like the morning. Yarra is usually very enthusiastic when it’s time to catch the tram home, as she knows dinner is just around the corner. Once home, Yarra gets some downtime to do what dogs do best and play. After dinner, Sophie and Yarra make their way to bed and get ready to start again tomorrow.
How can you make a difference?
Seeing Eye Dogs have an unimaginable impact on those living with low vision. Sophie is one of many who have experienced the benefits of working with an assistance dog, and urges others who are blind or have low vision to apply for a Seeing Eye Dog.
“I have my independence back now, which means my self-confidence has grown so much,” she says.
“This year I achieved my goal of running a half-marathon because having Yarra by my side has made me believe in myself so much more. I feel like I can achieve anything!”
Sophie was able to be paired with Yarra thanks to the work of Vision Australia’s Seeing Eye Dogs and the selfless volunteer puppy carers who play a vital role in training Seeing Eye Dog puppies.
“To someone thinking of volunteering as a puppy carer – yes please do,” says Sophie.
“There are so many people unable to live their lives independently and confidently, and so many puppies who are perfect to be trained as Seeing Eye Dogs – but they need special lovely people to set them on that path.”
Seeing Eye Dogs can have a profound impact on the quality of life of those living with low vision. With the help of Vision Australia’s Seeing Eye Dogs, their volunteers and public donations, more dogs are able to help those who need them most.