Two of our valued volunteers experience the pups they raised as fully trained Guide Dogs

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to navigate the world without little or no vision?

Having raised six puppies for Guide Dogs Tasmania, Sue McConnell has given the matter a lot of thought. So she was glad to have the chance to try walking under blindfold with Grady, the recently-graduated Guide Dog she raised as a pup.

Accompanied by our Guide Dog Mobility Instructors, Kim and Sean, Sue experienced what it’s like to put your trust in a dog to walk safely down a street.

“It was actually a little scary,” she said afterwards. “I always imagined it must be really hard – but when you actually do it, you’ve got no idea where you are, and even when Sean says something like ‘get up to Grady’s shoulder,’ you can’t see his shoulder so you have to put your leg in close to feel.”

But Sue was left in no doubt of the difference a Guide Dog makes: “It must give vision-impaired people so much freedom having a dog and knowing they can walk along a footpath,” she says. “ It must be so much better than having a white cane. You are totally on your own with a cane but with a dog, you’ve got someone by your side.”  

Sue, Grady and Sean

Liz Jackson also found her experience with Gilbert, the pup she raised, a revelation.

“There’s a bit of nervousness there … so you have to think ‘right – I’ve got to trust this dog to do what he’s trained to do,’ and focus on relaxing so he can do it properly,” she says. “It took a little while for that to happen for me – probably about halfway up the street – and then it all kind of clicked into gear.

“The rhythm started to change, and because you’re focusing on holding the harness properly and what the dog’s doing … your balance is different and so is your walking pace. So people who are vision impaired experience the world differently all the time.

“For example when Gillie came to the kerb, I could feel the dip. I’m not experienced so I wasn’t sure what was going on … but you’re kind of alert in different ways. Without your eyes, you’ve got to manage how your body is in the world differently.”

Liz admits to sometimes despairing when he was a playful, curious puppy that that Gilbert might never make it as a Guide Dog, but having experienced his focus and dependability in harness, she now has confidence he’ll make a great partner when he is matched with the person he’ll guide through life.

Liz, Gilbert and Sean