Seeing Dog’s retirement spurs over £20,000 in donations

Stephen Anderson, 32, is a local government worker from northwest London. His first seeing dog, Barney, retired in July 2023 and thanks to their frequent travels, his retirement prompted British Airways to support the Seeing Dogs Alliance.

Stephen Anderson knew that his farewell trip with retiring seeing dog Barney was always going to be special, but he hadn’t counted on just how much love there would be for the friendly Labrador.

Back in July 2023, the pair enjoyed some brief fame when a video of their final trip with British Airways (BA) went viral.

“I’d let BA know that it would be Barney’s last flight before he retired but hadn’t expected them to do anything,” explains Stephen. “It was amazing when the cabin crew made a special announcement for him. Everyone on board clapped and cheered – it was such a lovely moment.”

Local government worker Stephen, 32, from northwest London, opted for a goodbye trip to Scotland to honour his faithful companion. “It was a last train, last plane kind of thing,” he says. “We went up to Glasgow on the night train and toured the city. I went to Ibrox and the Roman Catholic cathedral before meeting a friend in the pub. Then it was straight back to the airport.”

The 17-hour round-trip might seem a little strange for some people, but for Stephen it was a symbol of the freedom that having Barney has brought him.

“Until Barney arrived in 2016, I did travel, but only with friends or my parents,” he says. “I applied to get a dog through the Seeing Dogs Alliance on a bit of a whim and

was approved after a short while. Having Barney has made me completely independent – it has definitely changed my life.”

Stephen and Barney on a BA flight from New York to London.

Hence the BA announcement. Over the years Stephen and Barney became frequent fliers who racked up more than 10,000 miles with the airline on their adventures together

– the US, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Dublin and Malta have all been ticked off the holiday to-do list.

Not that life together all been easy. Stephen says Barney – his first seeing dog – was always a bit of a thrill-seeker. And that didn’t sit easy during the dark days of lockdown.

“From the moment I got Barney he has been really attentive. He wanted to do things for me,” says Stephen. “The Seeing Dogs Alliance training process is great because it is based around your home area and really tailored to you, so the dog can get used to your surroundings and needs.

“But during lockdown there wasn’t much opportunity to get out and about. Barney would be like ‘oh great, we are only going to Tesco again’. It was like I could feel he was losing interest. He always loved varying things up and going to new places.”

After years of loyal service – and loyal flying with BA – Barney has gone into retirement on a high. His brief stint in the spotlight delivered some unexpected good news for the SDA, with the national airline pledging £20,000 to the charity. The money will be used to help pay for the training cost of future seeing dog, Sky.

“I’ve got my second dog from the Seeing Dogs Alliance now – Ava, a chocolate brown Labrador,” says Stephen. “Barney seemed a bit put out when she arrived and started taking over his work, but he’s much more relaxed about it now. I think his glad not to be travelling so much!”

British Airways also enrolled the charity into its Better World Community Fund to support further donations to the Seeing Dogs Alliance. The fundraising opportunity enabled more than £22,000 in donations in September 2023.

More than two million people are estimated to be living with sight loss in the UK, and every day 250 people start to lose their sight. This is equivalent to one person every six minutes. Yet, the current shortages of dogs and dog trainers are leaving blind people waiting for up to two years for a fully trained guide dog to enter service; leaving thousands without the independence, confidence, and companionship a seeing dog brings. So, the fundraising via the British Airways Better World Community Fund will help increase the number of dogs the charity is able to train and to reduce the waiting list for trained seeing dogs.

To donate, visit our Just Giving page.