At the beginning of this month I had the opportunity to visit the Guide Dogs Centre. I did not go there as a blogger, so I did not have to talk about it, but how could I miss the chance of sharing pictures and details about this amazing charity? First of all, this is their website if you want to see more about them or if you can help.
Guide dogs is a charity with 16,000 employees and 17,000 volunteers. They do not get any government funding, but manage to raise £50 to £60 millions each year. They breed and train hundreds of dogs as guide dogs each year, helping so many people live a better life.
We had a 2 hours tour. It started with a short presentation of the charity, followed by a short presentation of their breeding programme. Guide dogs breed their own dogs. The females and males are kept in homes by volunteers, similar to pets. After a maximum of three births, all females are retired, neutered, and re-homed. If a female has a problem with a birth, then she will no longer be used for breeding, for her safety and well being.
I was not surprised by this, as Festus’ breeder and all responsible breeders have similar views when it comes to the number of births. Their breeding centre is in Birmingham and that can be visited too. I will visit it when I have the opportunity, that’s for sure.
Also, their dogs are trained for 2 years. They will work for 6 to 8 years, depending on the lifestyle of the person who they help. For example, as London is more stressful, the dog is retired at 8 instead of the usual 10. They are re-homed with members of the family of the beneficiary, volunteers, or, ultimately with members of the public, after vetting.
After these presentations, in which many more interesting things were mentioned, we went to see their indoor training area and we saw the dogs being trained.
After that, the dogs left. One was brought so we could meet her. Also, we could try the walk, with a blindfold, guided by the trainers, feeling as a blind person would.
When I was studying at University for my first degree (Psychology), I used to walk with my eyes closed at home, in an attempt to understand how blind people feel their environment. I thought this will not be hard for me. Well, I was so wrong. Unlike a place I know, walking without seeing anything, not even realizing the direction I’m going and if I might bump into other people or stuff, despite constant reassurances from the person who guide me was incredibly moving.
My husband tried it too and he said similar things. If you visit a guide dogs centre, please try the walk, it will feel so strange.
At that point in the walk, I had no idea I was there. She told me we are going back and I knew that were obstacles there, but I couldn’t figure out where I was. Also, hearing people talking scared me a little, thinking I will hit them, not knowing how close they are.
We went out to see the grounds of the centre. Some dogs were outside and we were able to pet them. All of them were so cute.
These cars are used to get the dogs out for training and on longer walks, for recreation.
The Obstacle area is really well designed. The dogs learn how to take decisions when they play, which will help them do their job.
This is the play area. It is just as big as the obstacle area, but without any obstacles. The dogs, being Labradors were having a great time running around with a toy. They were hilarious.
Car park, not something you might think is part of a tour, would you? Well, this car park is different because the surfaces are different, so the dogs can be accustomed with different kinds of surfaces to walk on.
The wall in the back has a story too. The company which built the houses said they are disturbed by the noise the dogs make. It was shocking for everybody in the tour when we heard that. These dogs improve the lives of hundreds of people and their families, so a bit of noise is to expected when they are in training; besides the dog centre was there before they built the houses.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures and the story. If you can, buy something from their online shop or leave a small donation. The cost of a dog is over £56,000 per year and they ask 50p from the beneficiary for the dog. This way is not means tested at all. Some beneficiaries can donate more, if they have the means, but that is irrelevant for them. When they are re-homed, the charity asks for £150 to £350 for the dog, as I said, after vetting (including home checks). I will make sure I buy a pen if I see them at a fair (bought 4 pens on the visit, besides a couple more things), or I will pop a couple of coins in their donation box.