Sheppard & Shepherd fundraising team
Last March, Gill Sheppard (our honorary president and former chairman), along with her German shepherd Alba, collected £234 in donations at their local Tesco store. The Loughborough Echo explained how their partnership came to be.
Bumping into a ladder in a busy London street at the age of 22 was a big moment for Gill. Severely visually impaired since birth – and someone who thought themself pretty proficient using a cane until then – the incident was a sudden wake-up call.
“I suddenly realised I might need some assistance,” explains Gill. “I’d moved to London to study music and found people in such a rush. I could stand by the side of a road like a lemon and no-one would ask if I needed help to cross. Then I had this incident with the ladder… it made me think that if anyone was up there I could have killed them. That’s when I decided to get a dog.”
Her first was a Boxer named Honey who hated music (“not a great match,” she admits) and then came a couple more traditional Labradors and Retriever crosses before the arrival of Olive, her first of five German Shepherds.
“I was so impressed with them; I never had any problems” she says. “It meant I always insisted on them when it came time to retire my dog. I stuck with Guide Dogs for the Blind so I could get a German Shepherd every time, but I think they [the charity] thought I was a bit difficult. The breed is less common in training, so sometimes I had to wait a bit.”
Gill had a successful career teaching piano as a form of rehabilitation for injured servicemen and was professionally successful, becoming a Fellow of the acclaimed Royal College of Organists. And with such as busy life she hadn’t imagined heading up a charity herself.
“In the late 1990s there was a small group called the Circle of Guide Dog owners, and I served on the committee. We had a sense that blind people could be better served with the provision of dogs,” she explains.
“Eventually we took over a dormant charity that had £10,000 in its accounts called Mobility Aid and Guide Dogs Alliance. Some names were thrown about, and the Seeing Dogs Alliance was born, but I didn’t want to be on the committee. Instead I kept an eye on the work and raised funds.”
Gill stepped up to become a trustee in 2012, taking on the role of chairwoman in 2016.
“Our one mission is the provision of guide dogs,” she explains. “In a perfect world I’d love Seeing Dogs Alliance to have its own residential training school and to dramatically increase the number of dogs we provide to clients, but we’re very small and that requires huge funds.
“The biggest issue in the guide dog world is the long wait. We have three freelance trainers who work on an ad-hoc basis so increasing that team is a goal. With an SDA dog the one-to-one training is personal and we work hard to ensure each client has their needs meet.
“What is most important for people who have stepped into the world of using a dog is that when it retires they can get a new one quickly – life is suddenly very limited without that help. My dream is that we can carry on serving demand.”