Year 5 and Little Griffins were in awe today of the wonderful connection and bond that had been formed between our visitors. Stu and Olivia visited us to share their story.
Stu, who lives in Reading became blind 4 years ago. First he was aided by the help of a white walking stick and then he was helped by the Guide Dogs UK Charity when he was partnered with Olivia a 75% Black Labrador cross retriever. Olivia was trained by puppy walkers at Pet Puppy School and then by the Guide Dogs.
Throughout training a guide dog learns to:
- walk centrally along the pavement whilst avoiding obstacles on the route
- not turn corners unless told to do so
- stop at kerbs and steps
- find doors, crossings and places which are visited regularly
- judge height and width so you do not bump your head or shoulder
- help keep you straight when crossing a road – but it is up to you to decide where and when to cross safely
Olivia has saved Stu’s life on numerous occasions but the one he remembers most is when a lorry came around a corner as he stepped off the pavement and Olivia pushed him back out of the way. Although Stu can use his sense of hearing, Olivia foresees things coming long before he does. We learnt that going blind does not make your other senses more effective – you just use them more.
The thing Stu misses the most is reading a good book. Although he can listen to audio books, nothing quite compares to sitting down and enjoying reading – Bill Byrson is a favourite author. He also misses his job as a lorry driver – however he is very grateful that his condition only affected his sight and nothing more. This has made him more determined to live life to the full.
This term Year 5 have been learning about connections and bonds and Stu and Olivia’s story is one that had us thinking beyond human connections. Olivia enables Stu to live a full and safe life and she depends on him for food most importantly for a Labrador but also friendship, play time, exercise and love. Being only 4 she still requires some discipline especially when she is too smart and knows where Stu keeps the food treats in his bag and tries to get to them by walking behind him! Olivia can’t get away with big puppy dog eyes either – but she knows that by putting her head on his knee she lets him know that if anything is to drop from the dinner table she is there!
Olivia will continue to be a guide dog for Stu until she is 10 years old when she will retire. Over her 10 years of service she will cost £56,000 – the guide dogs need our help to provide this life changing service.
Olivia doesn’t just save Stu’s life physically but mentally too. Anxiety and depression come with the isolation of being blind. Guide dogs not only provide guidance but support in the form of love and affection in an otherwise dark world.
Stu’s advice – “Live your life when you are young, don’t miss out but get on and do stuff – don’t put it off”. He’s seeing the world more than ever and we wish him a wonderful trip to The Caribbean soon.
Did you know?
- Adults are the worst offenders when it says “Please don’t distract me – I’m a working guide dog” on a dog’s harness.
- Guide dogs are not only taught to look out for obstacles that are on the pavement, they’re also trained to avoid obstacles that may be at head height – such as over-hanging branches.
- Some guide dogs are trained to find the box at a pelican crossing by jumping up and resting their paws on it. This is so the handler knows where the button is.