The Guide Dogs Australia early pioneers
The modern Guide Dogs movement owes much to our early pioneers.
A trip to England to study at University by Dr Arnold Cook, who lost his sight at the age of 18, was pivotal to the Guide Dogs Australia story and its beginnings in Western Australia.
Here is his story; one of overcoming challenges, showing initiative and of chance.
Dr Arnold Cook was born in 1922. At the age of 18 he contracted Retinitis Pigmentosa as a result of which he lost his sight. He responded to this immense challenge by learning Braille and studying at the University of Western Australia. He married in 1946 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in 1947.
Due to his outstanding university results Dr Arnold was awarded a scholarship to study in England. It was while there, quite by chance, when visiting the parents of a university colleague that he heard about the Guide Dogs Centre in Leamington Spa. Working in London and having to negotiate the fast moving city he came to realise the benefits that a Guide Dog could offer him, so applied and obtained a Guide Dog from the newly formed Exeter centre.
On his return to Australia in 1950 as a lecturer in economics at the University of Western Australia, Dr Cook and his dog Dreena soon became a familiar and arresting figure striding quickly and safely about the streets of Perth.
The pair created enormous interest from other blind Western Australians resulting in the first Guide Dog Association being formed in WA in 1951. The Association was housed in two old tram carriages joined together.
Dr Cook had corresponded regularly with his English trainer Miss Betty Bridge and on learning that she was emmigrating to New Zealand arranged, along with a deputation, to meet her at Freemantle Docks and she was ultimately persuaded to come to Australia to become the first Guide Dog Trainer.
As history has recorded, because of his ‘can do’ attitude, Dr Cook was a true captain steering a future course towards fairer weather for the vision impaired.
Information from: To Guide and Guard published by University of Western Australia Press, 1967.