Class of 2017 officially graduate

Class of 2017 put best paw forward at Graduation Ceremony

Guide Dogs Tasmania officially celebrated the graduation of five Guide Dogs at Invermay Bowls Club on 19 December 2017.

Guide Dogs Jacob, Jerry and Phoebe graduated from their formal training and will be placed with clients in January 2018. You can see the moment they graduated from “Learner coat” to “working harness” below:

Guide Dogs Izzy and Taylor officially graduated with their handlers on the day. Both dogs were placed with clients earlier this year after a thorough matching process by Guide Dogs Tasmania staff.

Speaking at the Graduation was Edward Cartwright of Wynyard, who was placed with his second Guide Dog, Izzy, in April. He said that when he’s with Izzy, he has a new lease on life.

“She provides me with freedom, social access to people and company at home. With a Guide Dog, you’re working as a team and can look at the world as a whole. Even getting lost with Izzy is more of an adventure than any trouble.”

Mr Cartwright walks up to 16 kilometres a day with Izzy, and said this is something he couldn’t do as easily without a Guide Dog. He said his retired Guide Dog, Oscar, who still lives with him as a pet, has enjoyed the company that a much younger, bubbly dog has brought to the household too.

“Since Izzy came along Oscar has reverted into a puppy. They both enjoy each other’s company and Izzy keeps Oscar in line.”

As his second Guide Dog, Mr Cartwright admits that it wasn’t all easy sailing starting afresh with Izzy. Just like building a relationship from scratch with a human, the pair had to get to know each other and gain each other’s trust.

Guide Dog Handler Edwards sits with his black Guide Dog Izzy. His hands are gently around her face and he is looking down at her, smiling.

Edward and Izzy have officially graduated as a team.

“Prior to placement with a client, a Guide Dog has never walked with a vision impaired handler before,” he said. “They’ve learnt what they can with their Instructors, but they then need to actually start working and putting those skills into practice. When I first started working with Izzy, she was still a Guide Dog in Training. Then, one day a few months later, it’s like she suddenly said to herself, ‘Ok, I’m a Guide Dog now’.”

Ms Savich, of New Norfolk, was placed with her first Guide Dog, Taylor, in August after experiencing drastic vision loss a few years ago. Ms Savich’s lifestyle changed dramatically and she could no longer get around safely without the assistance of a mobility aid. While using a white cane provided her with safety, it didn’t give her the confidence to go out in public and generally enjoy life like she had been able to, prior to her vision loss.

“I was staying at home and hiding from the world. I didn’t want to go out and see friends, let alone strangers. I became very depressed and found it really difficult to adjust,” she said.

When Guide Dog Taylor was placed with Ms Savich earlier this year, she said the two of them just “clicked”.

After the initial bonding period where the pair got to know each other, Ms Savich began a vigorous training process with a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor before commencing independent walks with Taylor. She was taught how to look after Taylor with her limited sight; how to use the harness; what commands to use, and orientation techniques to find her way around.

Now, only four months on, Ms Savich is starting to regain the lifestyle she used to enjoy prior to her vision loss. She’s meeting up with friends, and even walks to a local café every day with Taylor, where he has his own dog pet put out on arrival.

“I don’t think people realise what a difference a Guide Dog can make to someone’s mental health, as well as their mobility. I’ve gained so much already from having Taylor in my life. I expected a change but not such a huge impact. He’s really become a friend and I’m so grateful to have him.”

A middle aged woman is sitting on a bench outside. Her golden Guide Dog, Taylor, is sitting by her feet. She is patting him on the head.

Guide Dog Taylor has changed Karen’s life.

Ms Savich and Guide Dog Taylor were unable to attend the Graduation. The pair were instead interstate for the arrival of Ms Savich’s granddaughter; something that was only possible thanks to the assistance of Taylor.

Puppy Raiser Monica Lockley spoke at the Graduation about her experience of puppy raising Taylor. Mrs Lockley has raised five Guide Dog pups and is currently raising Guide Dog Pup Murphy. She remembers Taylor as a beautiful puppy who was particularly difficult to part with, when his time with her came to an end.

“Everybody loved Taylor and wanted him. He was very smart and extremely mature, even as a young pup.”

Kim Ryan, Coordinator for Guide Dog Services at Guide Dogs Tasmania, spoke about the specific training techniques that are used to train Guide Dogs, as well as the importance of the Puppy Raising program.

“Without our dedicated volunteer Puppy Raisers, we simply wouldn’t be able to raise and train Guide Dogs here in Tasmania. The Puppy Raisers of Taylor, Izzy, Jerry, Jacob and Phoebe have done a tremendous job in ensuring the dogs in their care were calm, well behaved and highly socialised by the time they came in for their formal training. This makes it much easier for our Guide Dog Mobility Instructors, who teach the dog specific commands and guiding techniques that will allow them to work for someone who is vision impaired.”

Ms Ryan said the organisation is always on the lookout for potential Puppy Raisers and Boarders to be part of this life-changing journey.

Guide Dogs Tasmania currently has 18 working Guide Dogs placed in Tasmania.

Click here if you would like to help change the lives of more Tasmanians.