Celebrating 50 years with Guide Dogs

Merran welcomes Jacob into her life

Guide Dog handler, Merran, is crouching down and smiling as she gently holds her black Guide Dog, Jacob.

Merran with Guide Dog Jacob.

Almost 50 years ago, Launceston resident Merran Thurley received her first Guide Dog. A big, lovable Golden Retriever called Boyd. Only 17 at the time, Merran had no idea just how much a part of her life Guide Dogs would become.

Merran was born with congenital cataracts and glaucoma and had two prosthetic eyes by the age of 14. Getting her first Guide Dog while she was still so young was like getting her licence to drive a car. It gave her independence and freedom.

One of Merran’s biggest achievements came after only a few months of having a Guide Dog, when she was able to hop on a bus and head to Hobart regularly to visit friends.

“Having a Guide Dog has allowed me to work, travel, go on holidays, meet new people, and simply be able to do the things I’ve wanted. With a Guide Dog, I have choice.”

Saying goodbye and hello

After Boyd, Merran went on to welcome Guide Dogs Tony, Monty, Shannon, Leo, Buffy and Ida into her life. Thanks to the team at Guide Dogs Tasmania, she had no more than a month or two between each dog. According to Merran, each dog had its own personality and each was just as difficult to say goodbye to when it was time for retirement. Earlier this year, it was 10-year-old Ida who hung up her harness for the final time, after providing Merran eight years of faithful service.

“It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do as a Guide Dog handler. You know you have to do it and you know it’s going to be tough. But you’re up again the next day and getting on with it. And once you start again, you can’t resist the temptation to keep on trying.”

And start again she has; this time with Guide Dog Jacob. 

Guide Dog handler Merran is standing on a footpath and smiling at the camera. She has a white cane in one hand and is holding the harness of a black Labrador, Jacob, in the other.

Merran training with Guide Dog Jacob.

Merran was matched with Jacob in January this year. Before commencing training, the pair had a week of bonding to get to know each other. Even at this early stage in their partnership, Merran knew that Jacob “was hers”.

“I couldn’t believe my luck with him. He’s the sort of dog that wants to come along at a stroll rather than a run, which is perfect for my needs now. I got a pretty good 50th anniversary present in Jacob.”

Merran is looking forward to a slightly more relaxed lifestyle with Jacob, but she will never forget her previous Guide Dogs that have enabled her to live a rich, fulfilling life.

“Back at 17, I had no idea what the future was going to look like, but when it came time to get my second dog I thought I’d give it a go and it just went on from there. They’ve been like family to me and I still think about them often.”

Merran will officially celebrate her 50th Anniversary as a Guide Dog handler on 16 July, 2018.

Guide Dog handler Merran, a lady in her 60s, is standing on some grass with a white Labrador, who is sitting.

Merran with Ida, who is now enjoying retirement.