Hilary's story

88-year-old Hilary from Surrey has always been independent and keen to keep herself busy. But five years ago, her sight loss progressed to the point that her neighbours told her it was too dangerous for her to go out on her own. Not one to stay at home, with the help of Guide Dogs Hilary is out walking every day with her white cane – and has even worn out the tip!

I can’t thank Guide Dogs enough – they’ve given me my long cane training and the ability to get out on my own. Everyone I have spoken to has been so lovely and the support has been marvellous.

Hilary has lived in Surrey for most of her life. She worked as a teacher in the local primary school. But when she stopped working, she was able to devote her time to her hobby - building intricate dolls houses. “I loved building the dolls houses in my workshop, and then when I brought them into my house it was tremendous fun embroidering the rugs, clothes, and carpets. It gives you a chance to do such a variety of crafts.”

In 2009, when she was 74, Hilary went to a routine optician's appointment. They noticed a problem and she was referred to the local eye clinic which diagnosed Hilary with macular degeneration. “I went to the eye clinic every two months for check-ups and injections, I also had cataracts removed. But in 2014 my right eye went ‘wet’ and by 2018 the sight in my left eye was so bad I had to lock up my doll house making workshop. That was a dreadfully sad day.”

Macular degeneration typically affects people in their older age and alters your central vision which you use to see details like reading, watching TV or to recognise people’s faces.

I went through a bad patch when my neighbours told me it was too dangerous to go out on my own. They were worried I would fall over. But I knew I couldn’t stay inside all day – I’d be too bored. I spoke to my ophthalmologist, and she said it’s really important to keep going out or else you will lose your confidence.

Reaching out to Guide Dogs

In 2021 Hilary called Guide Line hoping that Guide Dogs could help her get more of her independence back. “From the first moment I made contact with Guide Dogs everyone has been so helpful, answering any question I have and in such a friendly way too.” Hilary soon decided she wanted to apply for a guide dog saying; “Having always had dogs a guide dog seemed like a natural fit. Plus they give you so much companionship as well.” 

As part of her application process, Hilary was paired with Vision Rehabilitation Specialist Dan. He quickly identified she would need long cane training so arranged for the local authority to provide an introductory programme before he continued with her advanced training a few months later. “Without Dan’s help I would probably still be sat in my house with no long cane training at all,” says Hilary.

“I was a little nervous before my first meeting with Dan, but he was so relaxed. Together he helped me map out the routes I would want to travel when I eventually have a dog. Like to the village, the shops and the church where I go every Thursday,” says Hilary.

Dan adds, “When I began my training sessions with Hilary in November, she was already familiar with basic cane technique so I focused on skills which could then be transferrable when she has a guide dog. We worked a lot on road crossings because there are a lot of parked cars on the roads Hilary walks, so I taught her how to safely cross between them.”

“On one of Hilary’s routes I also taught her how to effectively use sighted assistance and what to say and do if someone offers to help you cross a road. I wanted to help ensure Hilary was able to stay safe but also feel more confident when going out.”

Hilary is one of the oldest service users Dan has trained but he says her ability to learn new skills is remarkable. “She is so keen to listen and learn. Her motivation to get out is so strong and she always has a positive approach.” 

Hilary adds “I feel so grateful and lucky to be mobile at my age, and I love to get out every day. It gives you exercise and whenever you go to the village you normally meet someone you know.”

Aged 88, Hilary is hoping to be matched with her first guide dog soon. “I had a taster walk with a guide dog and it was wonderful. I could walk at double speed just like the old days and it just felt right for me.” But Hilary says she never feels on her own knowing that help from Guide Dogs is just a phone call away and also her regular check in calls with Dan. At her last visit Dan even had to bring Hilary a new tip for her white cane because she’d worn the other one out. Dan says, “Giving people new tips is the best thing ever!” 

Hilary says she is determined to keep getting out of the house every day, practising her routes and is so grateful to Guide Dogs for allowing her to maintain her independence.

Fundraising for Guide Dogs

“I just felt that everything and everyone at Guide Dogs I have spoken to has been so wonderful I wanted to do something to give back. 

I organised a coffee morning at my home. Guide Dogs sent me all the bunting, collection boxes and bookmarks so we could make a real morning of it. And I opened the dolls houses and got all the electrics working. That raised £600!

I also organised a ploughman’s lunch and that brought in another £400. I want to plan another one for the Spring.

Everyone has been so supportive and generous, and I am so happy I can do my bit to say thank you for all the help I have had from Guide Dogs so far.”