What people really think and say about Seeing Dogs, by Neil Ewart
I finally retired from Guide Dogs over a decade ago. By then changes were in my opinion getting out of control at GDBA and it was evident there was no place for me from the “old school” in the new organisation. I had heard of another organisation in existence called The Seeing Dogs Alliance training guide dogs in the UK which had been developed by disaffected Guide Dog Owners who, back in 1979, even then, thought our organisation was losing direction. The aim of this small but growing organization is simply to provide blind and partially sighted people with professionally trained guide dogs, known as Seeing Dogs.
One of the leading lights was Chris Parker. I met her at an event and in a fairly weak moment I offered to undertake some aftercare or view potential gift dogs for them. Into retirement I even said I would do it for nothing!
One day I was asked if I could visit one of their units in Northampton trained by ex-GDBA Instructor John Grave. John is an ex-RAF dog handler who trained with GDBA and worked at a few different locations before setting up as a private dog trainer in the 1990’s. I was impressed with what I saw. Here was a dog really working effectively. A sight not lost on a lot of locals! I decided to continue my support and for a few years even became Chairman.
Seeing Dogs was set up as an alternative source of guide dogs to GDBA, concentrating purely on the issue of training a dog and partnering it with a blind person: a no-frills service for blind people provided by blind people. All our adult dogs and puppies in training live in a home environment.
I have done a lot of interviews of applicants. In 90% of cases the person had been turned down by Guide Dogs, sometimes for the most inexplicable reasons. Everyone I accepted, and most have been successfully trained.
Since 1979, Seeing Dogs has been operating on a limited basis with guide dog owners and their families running the charity. In 2001 it was re-launched, and in 2016 it was inspected by and accepted as a member of the International Guide Dog Federation, which as you know, is the world standard-setting body for all Guide Dog Schools. Also, we have joined Assistance Dogs UK as we meet their exacting standards too.
The costs involved are kept to a minimum as, apart from any trainer costs, there are no other paid staff within the organization. The charity receives no government funding and relies on the generosity of the public. With demand for dogs growing the main aim is to continue meeting this demand while keeping administration costs to a minimum.
Seeing Dogs Alliance have received help from other Assistance Dogs Organisations, in particular Dogs for Good.
Of course, there is room for several organisations to train guide dogs in the UK, perhaps it is a long overdue necessity as sometimes being a monopoly can be unhealthy with no one to compete with or have the opportunity to benchmark against. It is very difficult for Seeing Dogs to compete, especially for funds, but there is a determination to keep going and meet the growing demand from so many deserving blind people.
One of the recipients of Seeing Dogs Alliance service described how her life has changed. She was recently partnered with her dog having been partially sighted until 10 years-old then went totally blind and has been ever since. Unfortunately, GDBA were unable to train her, but she then applied to The Seeing Dogs Alliance who deemed her suitable for one of their dogs.
‘My dog has made a huge difference to my life. I would never go out on my own before, even though I could manage with a cane. But now, I want to do these things. That’s the difference! I want to say a massive thank you to everyone connected to Seeing Dogs. They really care about you.”
That says it all!