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Former Home Secretary, Lord David Blunkett has been getting to know his new guide dog Barley.
The black retriever/German Shepherd cross is his seventh guide dog since he qualified with his first in 1969. His previous guide dog Cosby died in late 2017.
Lord Blunkett spoke about the experience of learning routes around Sheffield and London with his new companion and the feeling of independence he has regained.
He wrote: “Last November, my much-loved companion Cosby died unexpectedly from liver cancer. Until the final few days of his life, my wife Margaret and I had no idea he was ill. The first sign that anything was wrong came when he didn’t want his breakfast – not natural behaviour for any labrador-cross, and completely out of character for Cosby, who weighed more than seven stone. When the vet told us the cancer was inoperable, I was completely unprepared in many ways.
“Cosby was not yet eight years old, and though the only humane option was to have him put to sleep to save further suffering, my heart broke in the clinic as I held his head to comfort him.
“He was my sixth guide dog in almost 50 years, after Ruby, Teddy, Offa, Lucy and Sadie. On each previous occasion, there had been an overlap, a transition when I’d been able to get to know my new dog while still working with the old one. Sadie stayed at my side till she was 11, before going off to a well-earned rest with a loving foster family. But after Cosby died, I was left without a dog. It came as a shock to realise just how much I relied on my canine helpmate.
“I’ve rarely spoken about the challenges I face in public life without sight. I prefer to highlight what I have to offer, and I’m always conscious that everyone has their own problems, often hidden and sometimes very serious.
“But it might be helpful to readers facing difficulties of their own for me to explain the practical and emotional challenges that have taken me by surprise since losing Cosby.
“Some have been comical: it turns out that the Palace of Westminster is littered with chairs and stone pillars whose existence I never realised while I had my dog to steer me.
“One obstacle floored me, quite literally, when I tripped over it in a parliamentary corridor. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a mobility scooter. You have to laugh, though it was a relief to realise that I hadn’t suffered much harm other than bruises to my dignity.
“Other problems are more debilitating, and perhaps you have to experience them to appreciate how hard life can be with a disability. My friend Frank Gardner, the renowned security editor at the BBC, has spoken of the frustration he felt on landing at Heathrow recently, when his wheelchair was not brought to the cabin door of his plane, but was taken into the terminal.
“The need to depend on the patience and kindness of others evokes complicated emotions. I am grateful for people’s thoughtfulness, but it is also painful for me to acknowledge just how helpless I am without them.
“Friends and members of the public have been wonderful, yet their help served to reinforce my levels of temporary dependency.
For me, as with so many blind people, a guide dog removes much of that reliance on others.
“I have great admiration for those proficient in using a long cane, as clearly a dog doesn’t suit everyone. It’s not enough to be blind – you must also be a dog-lover. A working dog is not a pet but it still needs your care, attention, time and love. If you can’t provide that, you shouldn’t take on the responsibility.
“Dogs thrive on routine, and I’m having to relearn some habits... such as going without a weekend lie-in, because Barley needs his breakfast and a chance to go outside. Even on wet and miserable days, a dog needs to be taken for walks. And because he’s not yet two years old, he needs plenty of play.
“It’s the play that’s wearing me out. Cosby liked a bit of fun but he didn’t have endless youthful energy to burn off. Neither do I, come to that. But Barley could chase tennis balls all day and night. He brings them back, but not often in one piece – the temptation to chew them to shreds is too strong.
“He loves a game of tug-of-war, too, with a rope or a toy. My arms and shoulders are sore from it. I’m getting used to him in other ways. Because Cosby was more like a small pony than a dog, I could reach down to pat his back without stretching or letting go of his harness. Sleek, black and handsome, Barley isn’t quite that tall, but he does love praise, even more than a scratch behind the ears.
“When I tell him he’s a ‘good boy’, his very long, bushy tail lashes away like a furry windscreen wiper. I worry about that tail, in fact – he’d better keep it tucked in when we go through revolving doors. He seems confident on escalators, and we are already getting used to using the London Underground together.
“In the capital with a guide dog, I’m constantly aware that we’ll need a convenient patch of grass several times a day. When meetings drag on, there’s always the thought in the back of my mind that the dog might be thirsty, or need exercise. This all has to be planned in advance. It’s not just a matter of putting on the harness and walking out of the door.
“Luckily, we have the Peak District countryside close by for weekend walks, which gives opportunities for Barley to relax and shake off the rigours of the working week. As yet, I wouldn’t trust Barley around sheep: if they scatter, his instinct would be to round them up, which would be dangerous.
“One of my dogs, Sadie, was trained to walk through a flock without distraction – and somehow the sheep understood this, and were not scared. I’ve never understood how that worked. If sheep are usually frightened of dogs, I’m the one who is wary of cattle.
“About nine years ago, I was knocked over by an aggressive heifer, and suffered three cracked ribs. So while Barley and I plan to enjoy our country strolls, we’ll be staying well away from the larger livestock.
“Before he came to me, Barley spent more than a year with a very experienced puppy walker called Sue. She recognised at once there was something special about him – ‘He’s a bright boy, a quick learner who enjoys meeting people,’ she said. Apparently he befriended every bus driver in the town, as he practised using public transport.
“Of course, as far as Barley knows, I’m just the latest human in a succession of puppy walkers and professional trainers. It will take him a while to realise I’m sticking around. In that respect, he reminds me of a civil servant in a government department, who looks after a succession of Cabinet ministers and must transfer loyalty from one to the next. The difference is that owners have to clear up after their dogs – whereas ministers sometimes make a mess for the civil servants to deal with.
“As Barley and I get the measure of each other, he will be constantly learning about my routines. It’s a common misconception that guide dogs come with a built-in satnav, pre-programmed with every road map. In fact, they have to get to know their owners’ regular walks – where the street crossings are, the bus stops, the cafes and shops. On every new route, they have to use their initiative.
“A guide dog is trained not just to avoid obstacles, but to stay to the middle of the pavement, and to stop at kerbs and steps. A calm temperament is needed to cope with crowds and traffic, and of course obedience is essential – a dog should not turn a corner or step into the road, for instance, until the command is given.
“That requires exceptional training, but what always amazes me most is how the animal is able to judge height and width, so that I don’t bump my head or shoulder.
“If you see us out together, by all means give me friendly shout, but please don’t distract Barley. He’s got enough to do already.
What might not be visible is how he reduces the stress of simply navigating everyday journeys for me. Wherever we go, a dog makes life so much easier than I knew, until I had to do without one.
“Yes, his youthful exuberance is tiring me out. And yes, I’m running out of tennis balls. But he is restoring my dignity and independence to me, and that is a blessing beyond price.”
National charity Guide Dogs is calling for urgent support from dog owners, as latest data reveals an alarming 12 guide dogs are attacked every month on average. In nearly 60% of these attacks the aggressor dog was off the lead.
In addition to the emotional and physical trauma of an attack, for the dog and owner, this serious issue has cost the charity over £1.3million since 2010 – the equivalent of 90,000 guide dog leads.
Today, the charity is launching their Take the Lead campaign, calling for the public to put their dog on a lead when they see a guide dog working. Canine researchers from the charity say this simple action could be the key to preventing future attacks.
Guide Dogs has campaigned on the issue of dog attacks in the past and back in 2014 tougher laws were introduced meaning if your dog attacked an assistance dog you could face up to a three-year jail sentence. However, the charity feels more needs to be done to prevent attacks and is now looking to the nation’s dog owners for support.
Guide Dogs Researcher, Rachel Moxon, says: “Guide dogs are life-changing for those living with sight loss, helping their owners live life to the full. Attacks on our dogs destroy confidence and can mean a guide dog owner once again loses their freedom and independence. Putting your dog on a lead when you see a guide dog working, allows you to have more control over the situation. Even if you know your dog is well-behaved, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
Attacks on guide dogs can have long-lasting affects for both the dog and owner.
Mike Brace’s guide dog, Izzy was attacked in London back in June 2016 and the pair are still dealing with the emotional scars from that day, he comments: “Izzy was badly hurt by a dog that sunk its teeth into her back – whilst the physical scars have healed she’s lost a part of herself, showing signs of anxiety, which breaks my heart. Each day a bit more of her sparkle returns but it all could have been avoided if the owner had put their dog on a lead that day.”
Today (1st March 2018), Microsoft have launched Soundscape, an App that makes it easier for people with sight loss to explore our towns and cities.
The App is a result of a collaboration between Guide Dogs and Microsoft. In this unique project, people with sight loss were at the heart of the development of the technology, influencing its design and testing the product.
The result is technology that makes it easier for people with sight loss to explore the world around them. By combining sounds that paint a picture of your surroundings with local information, it will enable people with sight loss to explore towns and cities and make choices about where they go and what they do.
Commenting, Tom Wright, Chief Executive of Guide Dogs said,
“If you’re living with sight loss getting around towns and cities can be daunting. Choosing where to go and what to do is an impossible dream. Soundscape will change this for many people.
“We worked with Microsoft to put people with sight loss at the heart of the development of Soundscape. This close collaboration has resulted in an App that makes exploring towns and cities a more enjoyable experience for those with sight loss, enabling people to make spontaneous choices about where they go and what they do.”
Discover more about technology and the Soundscape App
One of the annual Guide Dogs’ Children and Young People’s Services children’s Christmas parties took place last Saturday at Tamworth Snowdome in Staffordshire.
What a wonderful time we all had…
32 children with a vision impairment and their families, (some of whom had travelled from as far as Bristol, Liverpool, Cambridge and York) were greeted with warm drinks and Danish pastries by the Guide Dogs’ Children and Young People’s team as they came to join us in the Tirol Suite overlooking snow covered slopes at Tamworth Snowdome.
Families were able to relax, chat to staff and other families before making their way into the Winter Wonderland experience...
During the experience children went through Santa’s snow trail – hitching a ride on a sledge and having fun playing in the snow. At the end of the snow trail was a fun, interactive Santa show which was enjoyed by all before visiting the animal village and meeting the Reindeer and other furry friends.
At lunchtime, we met back in the Tirol Suite for a Christmas buffet lunch with a great opportunity for all families to mix and chat. We had a children’s entertainer – Mr Potato, together with face painting, temporary Christmas tattoos and tactile colouring. We were also joined by two guide dog puppy walkers who came in with some very excited puppies to meet the children.
Then we were delighted to welcome a very special visitor - Father Christmas, who had sensory gifts for all the children of scented playdoh, flashing tambourines, chocolate coins and audio CD storybooks.
These events are so important because not only do the families hopefully have a great time but it enables them to meet other families in a similar situation and Guide Dogs’ Children and Young People’s Services staff, who they might have only talked to over the phone, and ask about any areas of concern that they may have for their child.
A great time was had by the children and one parent wrote to say they enjoyed the party because it was:
"Nice to chat to other families and share experiences and offer support and advice. Everything was carefully planned out to make our day a special experience – a welcome break from day to day life/hospital appointments etc."
Virgin Atlantic has announced a global airline first as it launches a fully accessible inflight entertainment system for customers with sight loss, with help from the charity Guide Dogs. The technology will be offered throughout Virgin Atlantic’s fleet serving destinations across North America, the Caribbean, Africa, China, India and the Middle East.
Televisions in the sky have come a long way since the days of a single TV at the front of the cabin – with seat back touch screen entertainment now commonplace across the industry. However, while this is a benefit for many, touch screens can create a barrier for passengers who are blind or partially sighted due to the challenges of navigating the system.
Now, Virgin Atlantic is pioneering new technology, which will enable customers with vision impairments to enjoy the full range of onboard entertainment via specially adapted iPads. Working with UK tech company Bluebox Aviation Systems, the innovative iPad-based platform was tested by representatives from the charity Guide Dogs and includes audio descriptions, large type, and consistent layout and controls.
Virgin Atlantic and Bluebox worked closely with guide dog owners to assist with the development of the special kit and considered different types of sight loss it could benefit, including total blindness, partial vision and sensitivity to brightness. Representatives from the charity provided recommendations for the initial design and undertook a year of extensive system testing to ensure the technology met their needs.
John Welsman, Policy Business Partner for Travel and Transport for Guide Dogs, said: “We know that something as simple as an in-flight entertainment system with voice overs and audio descriptions will help passengers with vision impairments to enjoy flights just like anyone else on board. As someone with sight loss who flies quite often myself, I think it’ll be wonderful to access entertainment and information on Virgin planes without needing to ask for help. Not having to call for cabin crew, or disturb fellow passengers around me who might be sleeping, will be great.
“The charity Guide Dogs works hard to make sure that people who are blind or partially sighted are not left out of life, and so we’re delighted that Virgin Atlantic is helping passengers with sight loss to be more independent on board their planes by providing accessible in-flight entertainment.”
David Brown, Business Development Director at Bluebox, said: "Bluebox's accessible inflight entertainment platform – aIFE – offers Virgin Atlantic the means to give passengers with different types of sight loss access the latest IFE content, and the independence and navigational ease-of-use they told us they wanted and needed from an IFE system. For such a complex development, we're incredibly grateful to have had such willing and committed partners in both Virgin Atlantic and our testing group from Guide Dogs."
Mark Anderson, Executive Vice President – Customer at Virgin Atlantic, said: “Nearly thirty years ago, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer seat back entertainment in all cabins, so it’s apt that we should be the first to ensure our entertainment is fully accessible across all flights. Working with Bluebox and Guide Dogs we’ve been able to create a world first that ensures customers with sight loss can experience the full range of onboard entertainment including the latest blockbusters, TV shows and albums.”
Do you have any unwanted fake beards or moustaches hiding in your fancy dress box? Guide Dogs needs your help. We’re appealing for public support after our latest research reveals guide dog puppies could benefit from early exposure to facial hair. The new research from Guide Dogs’ behaviour experts reveals early experiences to familiarise puppies aged 0-6 weeks will have a lasting impact on confidence and anxiety levels.
We rely on over 8,000 volunteers to support the guide dog training programme, and the dedicated volunteers who work with our breeding centre supported the births of more than 1,300 puppies last year.
However, with 71% of volunteers being female, many guide dog puppies start life unfamiliar with a furry human face.
Whilst Guide Dogs is on a drive to recruit more male volunteers both in dog focused roles and more generally, in the meantime we’re asking for your leftover Santa beards and Mario moustaches to help our pups continue to grow into confident, well socialised guide dogs.
Please send your unwanted fake facial hair to:
Guide Dogs Face Fur Appeal
The Results are in!
The Great British Dog Survey got tails wagging again this year. Thousands of dog lovers across the UK shared just what their four-legged friends mean to them - from their cheekiest habits to their preferred treats, we’ve found out just what keeps our nation’s dogs happy…and the results are now in!
Do you own the nation’s most popular dog?
We’ve chosen some of our favourite facts to share, but you can view the full results here.
What’s the UK’s most popular dog breed?
According to our survey, Labrador retrievers are the most popular breed again this year, with cockapoo’s rising to the top of the most popular cross breeds.
What are the nation’s favourite dog names?
There’s been a bit of change in our top 20 male and female dog names from last year. Molly and Jack have moved down the table, there are a couple of brand new entries and Dexter has moved up a whopping nine places! Has your dog’s name made it into the top 20?
What toy gets our dogs tails wagging the most?
We asked what toy your four-legged friend likes to play with most, and found that most pooches prefer a soft cuddly toy. In fact, over 35% of our nation’s dogs like to cosy up with their own furry friend, which is a change at the top from the good old fashioned ball last year! What toy does your dog prefer to play with?
Guide Dogs is delighted to appear in the very first edition of a new book from Guinness World Records, called Amazing Animals.
Available to buy now, Amazing Animals features Guide Dogs because the charity holds the world record title for the most guide dogs trained by an organisation. Our record stands at 33,910 guide dogs trained at the end of 2016.
To celebrate the achievement, we’ve put together a list of just some of the reasons that guide dogs are amazing animals. Did you know…?
- Guide dogs are trained to play with other dogs when they aren’t wearing their white and yellow harness, but to ignore other dogs when their owner puts their harness on – it’s like they go into work mode.
- It’s the person who decides to cross a road, not the guide dog! But, if the dog sees a nearby moving vehicle that their owner might not have noticed, a guide dog will deliberately ignore any command to walk out in front of it. It’s called ‘intelligent disobedience’!
- Guide dogs can go to the loo on command. If they’re flying long distance, they can even go to the loo on a portable toilet mat!
- A guide dog can find their owner’s home in a street where all the houses are very similar, and the owner has no clues or landmarks as to which is their house.
- If they’re on a bus or train, a guide dog can take their owner to an empty seat. Guide dogs are also trained to steer their owner towards the button boxes at pedestrian crossings, or the handrails at a set of stairs.
- Guide dogs are trained to take their owner’s height into account, and how wide the pair are, when walking along a pavement. If a gap’s too narrow, or something’s hanging low overhead, a guide dog will refuse to go any further.
Wendy Rankin, Director of Mobility Services at Guide Dogs, said: “We’re incredibly proud to hold the record for the most guide dogs trained by an organisation, as our iconic guide dog service is at the heart of our charity.
“Since 1931, we’ve transformed the lives of thousands of people with sight loss by partnering them with a guide dog, helping them to take control of their lives safely and confidently. It’s wonderful to have our dedication recognised with a Guinness World Records title.”
Did sparks fly?
One date could change your life forever but in Guide Dogs' latest video we show that one dog can make all the difference.
Four guide dog owners meet strangers for the first time to tell their real-life stories - they reveal the challenges of living with sight loss and the huge difference a guide dog has made to their lives. But as ever, the challenges of dating make for some awkward moments that even the most intuitive dog couldn’t guide you through.
Almost two million people in the UK today are living with sight loss that has a significant impact on their daily lives. Of those, around 180,000 rarely leave their homes alone and can lead lonely, isolated lives.
The video launches the annual Guide Dogs Week, running from 7th to 15th October and has been created to inspire people all over the UK to #MoveitforMoney and do something they love to raise vital funds for Guide Dogs. More people than ever need a guide dog and the money raised will help the charity ensure that people with sight loss don’t lose out on life.
Commenting on the video, Peter Emmett, Head of Community Fundraising said: “The First Blind Dates concept creates an authentic platform for our four guide dog owners to share their stories of living with sight loss and guide dog ownership with complete strangers. We’re confident that it will inspire people all over the UK to Move it for Money and raise vital funds during Guide Dogs Week.”
And Joe Wade, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Don’t Panic, the agency that created the film, said: “We wanted to create a film that told real people’s stories in an inherently engaging and compelling way. By adopting the familiar dating show set up, we were able to create an authentic environment for people to open up in and tell their stories first hand. These stories are honest and empowering, highlighting the positive impact Guide Dogs can have on people’s lives.”
Watch the First Blind Dates video on Facebook below:
You can watch the accessible version here.
People with sight loss are being put in danger by unsafe street schemes that force pedestrians and cars to share the same space. These shared surface schemes, usually found in town and city centres, are making some areas no go zones for people living with sight loss.
Seven out of ten people who took part in our survey feel they are put in danger by shared surface schemes, where kerbs and pedestrian crossing points are often removed.
We are calling for plans for new shared surface schemes to be put on hold until the Government issues guidelines to ensure they are safe for all pedestrians.
The research is released alongside a video, that carries the message that it’s not always good to share.
Guide dog owner Laura Turner was left fearing for her safety after a close shave with a car in Leicester City Centre. Describing her experience while out with a friend, Laura said: “We were walking back towards the station when we approached the shared surface. What I didn’t realise was that I was walking into the middle of the road. There was a car coming which was probably going a little too fast and we could have both been hit. The worst part was I had absolutely no idea.”
Support our campaign by signing our open letter to Government.
This October you can treat yourself, pamper your dog and look after your eye-sight to support Guide Dogs Week.
Specsavers is donating £1 for every eye test carried out during the month, a great opportunity to look after your eye-sight and support Guide Dogs at the same time!
Online retailers Mutts & Hounds, FromLucy and The Little Soap Co will donate 10% on customer purchases throughout the October. And we’ve got an exciting partnership with Debenhams gift card.
There really is something for every shopper this Guide Dogs Week.
People with sight loss invited to try out the new note’s tactile feature
Today, on the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney unveiled the design of the new £10 note featuring the world-renowned author. The note is printed on polymer and is the first Bank of England banknote with a tactile feature to help people with sight loss.
As it is made of polymer, the new £10 note is cleaner, safer and stronger. It joins the Churchill £5 in the first family of polymer Bank of England banknotes and a new £20 note featuring J.M.W Turner will follow in 2020. The £10 note contains sophisticated security features which make it very difficult to counterfeit. It is expected to last at least 2.5 times longer than the current paper £10 notes – around five years in total – and stay in better condition during day to day use.
The new tactile feature on this note is a series of raised dots in the top left-hand corner and has been developed in conjunction with RNIB. This is in addition to the elements already incorporated in Bank of England banknotes for people who are blind or partially sighted; the tiered sizing, bold numerals, raised print and differing colour palettes.
The Bank of England contacted Guide Dogs to invite three guide dog owners to the note’s unveiling, so they can feel the note’s new tactile feature for themselves. Wendy Rankin, Director of Mobility Services at Guide Dogs, said: “We’re delighted that the Bank of England has included a tactile feature on the new polymer £10 note, ensuring that people with sight loss can continue to use cash with confidence.
“The charity Guide Dogs works hard to make sure that people who are blind or partially sighted are not left out of life. We know that including something so simple as a tactile feature on the new polymer £10 note helps people with vision impairments to live their lives independently.”
The new £10 note will be issued on 14 September 2017 and the public will begin to see them in the following days and weeks as the notes leave cash centres around the country and enter general circulation. The public can continue to spend paper £10 notes as usual and these will be gradually withdrawn as they are banked by retailers and the public. Legal tender status of the paper £10 featuring Charles Darwin will be withdrawn in Spring 2018 with the exact date being announced at least three months in advance.
Speaking at Winchester Cathedral, the resting place of Jane Austen, the Governor said: “Our banknotes serve as repositories of the country’s collective memory, promoting awareness of the United Kingdom’s glorious history and highlighting the contributions of its greatest citizens. The new £10 note celebrates Jane Austen’s work. Austen’s novels have a universal appeal and speak as powerfully today as they did when they were first published. The new £10 will be printed on polymer, making it safer, stronger and cleaner. The note will also include a new tactile feature on the £10 to help the visually impaired, ensuring the nation’s money is as inclusive as possible.”
Victoria Cleland, the Bank’s Chief Cashier, said: “The new £10 note marks the next exciting step in our introduction of cleaner, safer, stronger polymer banknotes, and I am grateful to the cash industry for their work towards a smooth transition. I am delighted that the Jane Austen £10 note incorporates an innovative tactile feature, which I hope will greatly benefit blind and partially sighted users.”
Find out more about the new £10 note.