Guide Dog Handler sitting on step with Guide Dog in harness sitting on grass next to her.

Roberta has almost no vision and severe hearing loss. Meet her very special Guide Dog Ella

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13 May, 2022

Guide Dog Handler walking along footpath with Guide Dog.

Like all our highly trained Guide Dogs, Ella brings an incredible set of specialised skills to her role. The ability to keep her ‘human’ safe. To guide them to where they need to go. To give them the confidence to go out into the world and reconnect with their community. And to give them companionship – in and out of home.

In short, to give them the independence they never imagined possible.

But since being matched with Roberta, Guide Dog Ella has had to learn a few additional skills. That’s because her doting human, Roberta, lives with both vision loss and hearing loss.

Roberta began losing her hearing at a very young age. She recalls being told that, just hours after she was born, she became ill and was not expected to live. Her hearing continued to deteriorate throughout her childhood and early adult years, then life dealt her another major blow.

As Roberta remembers it, she was in a car accident and hit her head. “My eyesight, which had never been that good, went really funny after that,” she says. Roberta would later discover that she had undiagnosed retinitis pigmentosa: a genetic disorder that causes loss of vision.

Her vision rapidly deteriorated after the accident, and she would soon learn to navigate the world without vision, and with just the aid of a white cane. But it was limiting, she says: particularly given the added challenge of hearing loss. Then one day, a support worker from VisAbility asked her if she had ever considered applying for a Guide Dog. Roberta says she was shocked, as she didn’t realise that she would qualify for a Guide Dog.

Roberta was on the wait list for almost three years. She undertook trials with other Guide Dogs, but none were a suitable match for Roberta’s needs.

Then one day, our Instructor Jenny introduced Roberta to Guide Dog Ella. It was the start of a remarkable union. Jenny spent five weeks working intensively with Roberta and Ella to assess whether they were the perfect match. “I remember the day we had our last assessment,” Roberta says. “We had done a final walk around the park and came back to the Guide Dogs WA centre. When Jenny said: ‘Roberta, Ella is yours’, I just burst into tears!”

Following the intensive training in Perth, Roberta returned with Ella to her home in the South West of the state. Jenny joined the newly-matched duo to continue training them in their local environment.

It’s now three years since Roberta was matched with beautiful Ella. We visited them recently, and to see them together, it’s obvious that theirs really is a life-changing partnership. They share an incredibly close bond and Roberta says she cannot imagine life without her devoted Guide Dog Ella. Guide Dog Handler kneeling near Guide Dog.

“I just love her!” she says, with tears welling in her eyes. “She keeps me safe when I go out and she’s just so clever. She guides me to the shops, the post office – and I can even walk to the local café by myself. Well, by myself…as long as Ella is by my side. It’s just so different to what life was like when I only had the white cane.”

Ella is also a big hit with Roberta’s family – especially her NINE grandchildren and THREE great-grandchildren. “Oh yes, she loves their company,” Roberta tells us.

But it’s in her quiet moments with Ella that Roberta is especially grateful for the bond she shares with her Guide Dog. “She seems to know when I am sad or upset and she’ll come up and gently give me a lick to cheer me up.”

You help to bring this joy and comfort and companionship into the lives of Western Australians like Roberta. And so much more.

With every gift you make to Guide Dogs WA, you really are giving the gift of independence to Western Australians living with low vision, disability and illness.

Your kind donations help to feed and train remarkable Guide Dogs like Ella, and to support people like Roberta through intensive training once they are matched. You also help to provide Guide Dog Instructors like Jenny with the resources they need to train these remarkable dogs and to support the Roberta’s of this world.

For that, we cannot thank you enough! Your support is critical, as there are Western Australians living with low or no vision on the waiting list for a Guide Dog like Ella. Please donate so together, we can help make more of these life-changing partnerships possible.

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