John Hedley and Miles

“I don’t think twice about going out now, I am so much more confident thanks to Guide Dogs and the four fantastic guide dogs I’ve had.”

Father, musician and retired college teacher John was born in Croydon in the fifties with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) a progressive eye condition characterised by tunnel vision. However, he wasn’t made aware of his sight condition until he was 14 and by the year 2005 he was totally blind.

“Looking back I laugh at the fact that no one told me about my sight loss – a sign of the times, you just had to get on with it. People would say I was being clumsy and that I was not blind.”

Cricket fan John continues: “I think it’s ironic I have gone onto have four guide dogs and counting. As a boy I remember reading the little Observers Book of Dogs which had pictures of Labradors and Retriever crosses, I also remember supporting Guide Dogs by collecting foil.”

Like most people living with sight loss, John did not take to using a cane or a guide dog straight away. He qualified as a teacher in 1975; 11 years before he was registered blind. “It was a huge shock. I managed to change jobs and became a teacher of A-level English.

“When out and about I used to stand still inside shops for a while pretending to look in my wallet while my eyes slowly adjusted to the light. I never wanted to use a white cane as I didn’t want to be labelled. I feared losing everything. However, this soon changed when I went out with a friend to Brighton one day in 1990. I bumped into someone and, as a result they went to hit me. Luckily my friend explained I couldn’t see. From then on I started to use a symbol cane for people’s awareness.”

However, it wasn’t until 1994 that John enquired about getting a guide dog. “I was still using a symbol cane and I was finding it very, very difficult to get out and about. At night I didn’t leave the house without my wife or sighted assistance. My greatest asset is my wife. She forced me to be independent and go out and do things for myself. This led me to think about a guide dog. I felt I was also relying on my young son too much – which wasn’t fair.”

In 1995 John attended training with his first guide dog, Garner, a yellow Labrador at Folly Court, one of Guide Dogs old training centres. He explains: “It was a revelation. I could suddenly get out on my own. The training was amazing, I learnt about computers and the benefits I may be entitled to.”

Today John is a volunteer Speaker and he helps out at collections for Guide Dogs. He is also a member of the Horsham Fundraising Group. “My guide dogs have given me so much… Not least of all Arran, my second guide dog who potentially saved me from injury and maybe worse. I remember being on Brighton station travelling to take guitar lessons. I was telling the dog to find left and the dog wouldn’t go – stopping me from walking off the edge of the platform.”

Since June 2014 John has been with Golden Retriever cross Labrador Miles, who was sponsored by BBC Radio Surrey and Sussex.  “All of my guide dogs have given me so much. I have my independence back, and I am relieved that my family no longer has to worry about me when I’m out and about.”