Students given insightful talk on guide dogs

Rowan, Steve and Nigel - Senlac St Mary's Interact Club March 2014 SUS-140403-112133001
Rowan, Steve and Nigel - Senlac St Mary's Interact Club March 2014 SUS-140403-112133001

Student members of the Interact Club of St Mary’s School were given a detailed talk on the history of guide dogs by people who have first hand knowledge of the importance of these special animals.

Steve, who is blind, his guide dog Ike and their friend Nigel visited the Interact club of St Mary’s (a junior Rotary Club attached to The Rotary Club of Senlac) last month.

Steve said Ike had given him a new lease of life after he’d suffered a stroke when he was 23 years old and lost his sight. Initially Steve had been very anxious and unhappy, became housebound and put on weight. He then met Nigel and was offered a four legged friend. Steve and Ike have been together for 4 years and he said his life is totally changed. Steve is now more confident and happier. He walks 4 miles a day, much more quickly than he could ever have walked with a cane, and lost weight. Steve said he relies totally on Ike and has trained him to take several different routes, including the school run so he can take his children to and fro.

Nigel explained that the idea of guide dogs began in World War I when German Shepherd dogs were sent to the front to find soldiers and help them back through the smoke and gas and darkness. “Many soldiers had been blinded and were able to find their way back by holding the collar of the dog which then led them to safety and so the idea arose that anyone who had been blinded would be able to have a dog to help them get around.”

By 1931 some German Shepherd’s had been trained. Initially people thought it cruel to train dogs to work but it was realised that the dogs enjoyed working. Not all dogs are suitable; they have to be the right height and have the right temperament. Soon dogs were being bred for the purpose.

Because the average working life of a dog is 8 years 600 puppies need to be trained each year to replace dogs who retire. The lifetime cost of a guide dog is a staggering £50,000. Most dogs are Labrador/Retriever cross and there are also some German Shepherd dog.

Thanking Steve and Nigel, Student President Elect Rowan said students had been fascinated with the presentation and asked many questions.