Close of a woman with her black labrador - Guide Dog Bella

It Takes a Village to Raise and Train a Guide Dog like Bella

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01 September, 2020

Woman kneeling on the grass with a small labrador in orange coat

Meet Puppy Raiser Justine and new recruit, Vicki. Justine is an experienced volunteer Puppy Raiser who has raised six puppies for Guide Dogs WA.

Like all our Puppy Raisers, Justine regularly attends training and education sessions with our trainers while reinforcing the skills at home, and on regular walks around the community. Justine is acutely aware of the importance of the first year of the pup’s life. After all, she’s seen her five previous pups graduate as working dogs and she knows how these loyal companions can transform life for someone who is blind or living with a disability.

Someone like Edwina.

A retired nurse, Edwina has no peripheral vision and lost sight in her left eye after surgery to treat a detached retina. Edwina has multiple health issues and was struggling to maintain her independence until she was matched with Bella: her first Guide Dog.

It’s been 18 months since she was paired with Bella, and today, Edwina can’t imagine life without her precious Guide Dog.

“With Bella by my side, I feel so much more comfortable going out for walks,”Edwina explains.“I feel safer and she is a wonderful companion. You’re never alone when you have a Guide Dog.”
Edwina describes Bella as ‘her shadow’. “She never takes her eyes off me,” she said.

Bella shadows Edwina throughout her busy weekly schedule. Daily walks. Regular trips to the shops. Braille and pottery at the Perron Centre on Tuesdays. Then, on Wednesdays, it’s off to an aged care facility where Edwina is a volunteer pastoral carer.

“Many of the residents have dementia and Bella just lights up their faces when she walks through that door!” Edwina says.

On Sundays, Bella is by Edwina’s side as she attends church. “When I’m in church, she puts her head in my lap and I’ll just pat her, and she’ll sit there for the longest time before she lays down.”

Edwina with Guide Dog Bella

One person who is not the least bit surprised that Bella has grown into such a loyal Guide Dog is Puppy Raiser Justine. Yes, Justine raised Bella from eight weeks of age!

Labrador puppy standing on the grass.
Bella at the age of 10 weeks – in May 2016.

Justine and her family met Edwina when she attended Bella’s graduation, and the two have kept in contact since.

Justine admits she has a bit of a ‘proud mother’ moment at Bella’s graduation, but she is also aware that she is just one of many people who contribute to the raising of these devoted working dogs.

“As a Puppy Raiser, I rely on the trainers to help me do my job. Then there are the Guide Dog Mobility Instructors who work with the dogs during their formal training. And the volunteer Formal Boarders who provide homes for the dogs during their training. Oh, and the wonderful donors who help to pay for the costs of raising and training these remarkable dogs.”
“It’s a huge team effort and it really does take a village to raise a Guide Dog,” Justine explains.

Our supporters are an important part of ‘our village’ – we need your support to help puppies like Vicki to grow into the best dogs they can be.

Right now, we have 20 puppies going through puppy raising and an additional 11 puppies being recruited in the next six months.

Please make a donation to help raise and train more remarkable Guide Dogs just like Bella.

Photographs of Edwina and Guide Dog Bella courtesy of Alex Cearns for Houndstooth Studio.

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