Players of People's Postcode Lottery are making a positive difference in the lives of up to 150 children and young people with sight loss and their families by supporting our buddy dogs service.
Many children and young people with sight loss face numerous challenges growing up, which can really impact their well-being and confidence.
Our buddy dogs service brings a new friend into their life. By helping to develop their self-confidence, build trust in themselves and others and improve relationships, these dogs can make a positive difference to the child and the whole family.
Adam and buddy dog Sam
Navigating their way through the teenage years can be tough for many young people. And for those like Adam, who must also contend with sight loss and health issues, life can be even more isolating. But, when Adam and his family were introduced to buddy dog Sam, they soon discovered how he would help Adam flourish.
When Adam was three and a half years old, he contracted Meningitis, a rare combined strain of Haemophilus Influenza B and D. He was put in an induced coma for two weeks to aid his recovery, but he incurred a brain injury which impacted his optic nerve. He lost 25% of his eyesight on the bottom left quadrant of each eye and suffers other conditions, such as epilepsy, as a result.
Growing up, Adam adapted well to his sight loss. But, despite that, his conditions impacted his life, and from the ages of around 10 to 17, Adam became more insular and isolated.
The family then heard about the Guide Dogs buddy dogs service, where children, young people and their families are matched with a buddy dog. In December 2021, when Adam was aged 18, the family was introduced to yellow Labrador cross golden retriever Sam. There was an immediate bond between Adam and Sam. Frank, Adam’s dad, said: “Having Sam has transformed every facet of our family. Adam has a dog he looks after, which has increased his confidence and independence.”
In 2022, Adam suffered a health setback. His condition caused several seizures, which compromised his central nervous system. He was in severe pain, needing hospital treatment, and was confined to a wheelchair for a couple of months. During this time, Sam would rest his head on Adam to try and comfort him. Frank said, “Without Sam’s friendship throughout that period, Adam would be significantly more damaged. Sam provides an emotional point for Adam to anchor himself to. And physically, he’s also better off now being more mobile.”
Speaking about Sam, Adam said, “He’s changed my life for the better. When I was unwell, he helped by just being there for me and comforting me.”
Robbie Campbell, Buddy Dog Service Lead, commented, “The bond between Adam and Sam has been incredible from the start. Sam has really supported Adam through some difficult times, which has been great for his physical and mental well-being. Having Sam has brought a lot of laughter to the family life.”
Alfie and buddy dog Cooper
Six-year-old Alfie was terrified of dogs before he met gentle giant Cooper. Cooper, a two-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, began life as a guide dog puppy but was withdrawn from training when he was diagnosed with elbow dysplasia. This led to a change of career for Cooper, who is now a buddy dog and Alfie's best friend, thanks to the support from players of People's Postcode Lottery.
When Cooper arrived at the home of Tamara, James and their children Alfie and Jenson, he fitted in with the family straight away.
“He has made a massive difference to Alfie and everyone at school has noticed”, said Tamara. “Alfie is calmer, whereas he used to bounce constantly on his feet when he talked. It's had a real impact on the whole family.”
Alfie has a brilliant personality and a great sense of humour. He brings joy to a room wherever he goes. He has a sight condition called Septo-Optic Nerve Hypoplasia and would be fearful if things moved too fast, vibrated or were a bit jumpy.
“We needed Alfie to calm down”, said Tamara, “and that happened when we started going for walks with Cooper, who is a gentle giant and big enough for Alfie to track with his right eye. Alfie has gotten into a routine and even goes to sleep earlier, which makes it better for him to learn at school the next day. Alfie gets involved in feeding and grooming Cooper and even sets his alarm for 6.30 am daily when we take him to the park.”
Cooper's true purpose
When the family heard about the buddy dog scheme they applied immediately. Tamara said, “We found the training and information days very helpful. We were given plenty of support to decide if it was right for us, but we didn't hesitate. Cooper has a real personality and would have made a fantastic guide dog. But he also loves snuggling up and falling asleep and is definitely a family dog. When I see how he has changed our family, I know being a buddy dog was his true purpose.”
Kerry Bevan, head of Guide Dogs Cymru, said: “Alfie and Cooper are a great example of the positive effect that buddy dogs can have on the wellbeing of a sight-impaired child, helping to develop their self-confidence, improve relationships and build a greater sense of fun and trust in themselves and others. And it's thanks to the players of People's Postcode Lottery, whose funding is supporting up to 150 children like Alfie during 2021 and 2022.”