President Sandy Corner welcomed a company of 37 members to the regular meeting in February of Petrhead Probus Club.
Sandy introduced speaker, Pat Clarke of Inverurie, who is a volunteer for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association who acts as a guide dog “walker/boarder”. With her was her latest protégé Nalaa, a cross Labrador-Retriever puppy of eight months who in four month’s time will enter into training for guide dog duties.
The name Nalaa is taken from a character in the film “Lion King“. Both Pat and her husband are now retired and decided to use some of their spare time to carry out this invaluable work. Nalaa is the third dog Pat has looked after.
Prospective guide dog puppies are bred at a centre at Leamington Spa and at the age of eight weeks are fostered out to volunteers such as Pat to allow them to gain experience in the everyday world.
Nalaa accompanies Pat wherever she goes in order to become used to the sights sounds and bustle of the town and countryside. She is taken into shops, onto buses and trains and amongst people and traffic to thoroughly accustom her to all kinds of things she may meet as a guide dog.
The breed of dog generally used is the Labrador-Retriever cross in view of the good combination of intelligence and patience but German Shepherds and Labradoodles are also in use, the latter being especially suitable for those with allergies.
At the age of 12 months the dogs are taken to the association’s training centre at Forfar where they undergo the specialist training required for their eventual duties.
Forfar is one of the four training centres run by the Association. This training lasts for approximately 16 months. After this the dogs spend two weeks to familiarise themselves with the new locality and then six weeks with their prospective owner to ensure they are compatible.
The owner pays a nominal fee of 50 pence for the dog. The working life of a dog is in the region of six-and-a-half years. At the training centre some of the dogs are selected for breeding and return to Leamington Spa and those who do not pass the training requirements are found other avenues.
The cost of breeding, training and caring for a dog is £10 per day or £50,000 over the working life of the dog.
The Guide Dog Association receives no Government funding whatsoever and relies entirely on charitable donations. This takes the form of fundraising by some of the 10,000 volunteers who assist the Association. £50 million is required each year to meet all the costs involved. Income is derived from legacies, (some two-thirds of the income comes from this), donations, collections and corporate company sponsorships.
Some 4,700 guide dog partnerships are supported by the Association. A guide dog gives its owner a tremendous measure of companionship and freedom and independence. At the present time more and more younger people require guide dog services.
The members really enjoyed the very comprehensive presentation Pat gave. It is obvious she has a sound knowledge of her subject and displays great enthusiasm for her work.
The vote of thanks was given by Jim Robertson who asked the members to show their appreciation in the usual way.
Our next meeting is due to take place on Tuesday 8th March at 10.00 for 10.30 when Mike Doig of Peterhead Academy will be the speaker. As usual all members and guests will be most welcome.