History of Guide Dogs WA

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Over 70 years ago in one of the worlds most isolated cities, a young man by the name of Dr Arnold Cook pioneered Australia’s first Guide Dog training facility in Perth, Western Australia. A series of life events and subsequent opportunities took the young Arnold on a path that would see him become a founder of the Guide Dog service in Australia. Arnold Cook left a legacy that continues across Australia today.

Arnold Cook was born in 1922 and was raised in country Western Australia. At an employment test at the age of 15, his suspicions that there was something wrong with his eyesight was confirmed. In seeking medical advice Arnold was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. His eyesight deteriorated rapidly and by the age of 18, he was legally blind. 

Faced with limited career options, Arnold returned to school to study for his leaving certificate which would allow him to continue his studies at university. At the age of 25, Arnold Cook graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Economics from the University of Western Australia (UWA).

Arnold’s academic achievements at UWA won him the Hackett scholarship to continue his post graduate studies at the London School of Economics. Arnold and his new wife Enid made contact with the British Guide Dogs for the Blind Association believing a Guide Dog could provide the mobility and independence Arnold needed. Legend has it that the Association assumed the young man arriving from Australia would be a “rugged six-foot Aussie” and he would be a suitable match to a German Shepard Guide Dog. Upon meeting Arnold it became apparent this particular Guide Dog would not be a suitable match.

Although disheartened, it was not long before the Association and their first female Guide Dog Trainer, Miss Betty Bridge, became aware of Arnold’s need. She had just trained a black Labrador by the name of Dreena who was soon introduced to Arnold and their now legendary partnership was formed.

Dr Arnold Cook with Guide Dog Drena
Dr Cook with Guide Dog Dreena

In 1950, Arnold and Enid returned home to Perth, Western Australia with their baby daughter, Susan and Guide Dog Dreena. Arnold returned to work at the University of Western Australia and he and Dreena became a ‘familiar and inseparable’ pair in Perth. 

Being the first Guide Dog in Australia, Dreena’s presence in Perth created enormous interest. Many vision impaired Western Australians were keen to have a Guide Dog for themselves.

Arnold was determined to establish a Guide Dog school in Western Australia so that others could enjoy the benefits of a Guide Dog.

In 1951 Betty Bridge resigned her position in the UK and en route to New Zealand to join her parents, she stopped over in Fremantle. She was met by a group of people Arnold had organised. They proposed that after she had visited her parents in New Zealand, she would return to Western Australia and ‘establish the first Guide Dog training centre in the southern hemisphere’. Miss Bridge agreed to the proposal and the committee set about raising funds to establish the organisation to be known as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. The objective of the Association was for Miss Bridge to train twelve Guide Dogs in the first three years.

Miss Bridge used a variety of dogs that were available locally. Her first successful matches were Guide Dog Beau, a Kelpie/Border Collie cross, and Guide Dog Terry, a Border Collie cross who were both partnered with Western Australians in 1953.

By 1957 the organisation had grown to have a national presence and was known as the Royal Guide Dog Association. The branches in other Australian states were established to raise funds so their clients could fly to Perth for a Guide Dog.

The great distance that clients needed to travel to access Guide Dog Services in Perth shaped the expanding Guide Dog movement in Australia. To service east coast based clients, the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia was established in Kew, Victoria in 1962, followed by a breeding program three years later.

Today the organisation is known as Guide Dogs WA. Serving a population of over 2.6 million and a land mass of over 2.6 million square kilometres, Guide Dogs WA continues Arnold Cook’s legacy to provide Guide Dog training services to the community of Western Australia. 

In recent years Guide Dogs WA has expanded the training programs to also provide life changing Autism Assistance Dogs.

After Dr Arnold Cook passed away in 1981, his pioneering achievements and his memory were immortalised in a bronze statue of Arnold with his beloved Dreena, at the entrance of Kings Park in Perth Western Australia.

In 2021, Guide Dogs WA launched a Cadet Training Program and the following year, it began breeding Guide and Assistance Dog puppies in Western Australia.

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