During the CICA New South Wales regional meeting in July last year, an auction of various items raised over $40,000 for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. The main item was for the naming rights of a yet to be born Guide Dog puppy.
Frank Zammit from Two Way Cranes secured the winning bid for the naming rights and went on to arrange a “puppy naming suggestion box” and Tally was the popular choice.
Traditionally the NSW Branch has used the social dinner at their Regional Meetings to raise awareness and funds for a charity within the community, says Heidi Hervay, NSW Branch Secretary.
“In 2019, the Committee agreed to align with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. Collaborating with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has been a fantastic opportunity to bring awareness to their cause and we will be privileged to watch Tally grow and learn and follow her through to graduation.
“We still have a bit more fundraising to do this year to finish off our commitment to Guide Dogs NSW/ACT as there is quite a lot involved in raising and training a Guide Dog puppy. I have learnt so much and I am excited to have been part of Tally’s journey,” said Heidi.
Tally is now six months old and has been living with her volunteer Puppy Raiser Virginia Hunt. Puppy Raisers provide a warm, loving home to Guide Dog puppies for the first 12 months of their lives and assist with basic obedience and skill training. Tally is the first Guide Dog puppy Virginia has raised.
“Puppy Raisers are required to attend information sessions and have home visits and assessments from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT before you are approved to be a Puppy Raiser.
“Training is weekly with a Puppy Development Adviser who conducts training in small groups with everyone else who is raising a Guide Dog puppy in your local area,” said Virginia.
A self-confessed “doggy person”, Virginia has spent the last 18 years volunteering her time around her children’s activities. Now they are in their late teens she wanted a volunteering role involving dogs.
“I thought Guide Dogs NSW/ACT was a really worthy cause.
“I know it’s going to be difficult to give Tally back after investing a lot of time and emotion, but I can see it’s something I am capable of managing. I’m going into the process knowing I have to be unselfish because this dog, as much as you grow to love and adore it, will be far more important to someone else, there’s a much bigger picture,” said Virginia.
Initial training is very basic and as anyone who has had a puppy will know. It starts with house training and house manners.
“The first month the training is no different to how someone would teach their own puppy. Training starts with your Puppy Development Advisor from the first week you have them.
The first few weeks involve socialising with the other puppies in the group where they play for 15 minutes and you might have five minutes of trying to get them to walk on leads, sit and stay at the end. At 12 weeks, it’s fairly basic with sit, stay and heel so not much more than an owner would be doing with their own puppy,” she said.
Tally is now six months old and the training is more complex. She is being taught to stay, to drop, to heel, to ‘leave it’ and to ignore the other dogs she is training with.
“We have a discipline where the puppies weave between each other, they are not to interact with the other dogs and need to focus on the instructions given by their handler. We are now training them to stay when we drop the lead and we are increasing the distance when walk away from them.
“Training is very much reward driven, we are dealing with Labradors and they are very motivated with treat rewards. As the training progresses, every second reward for doing something right is a pat and a hug and a rub behind the ears, more a physical touch reward so they are not receiving a food reward for everything they do,” said Virginia.
At around 12 to 14 months, the pups return to Guide Dogs NSW/ACT for an assessment process. During this time, they assess the dogs skills and personality, work out what sort of dog they are and decide where they might like them to go to from there,” she said.
There are a few different avenues available for the dogs. Obviously, they can become a Guide Dog, and go on to change the life of a person who is blind or has low vision – that is the ultimate goal. However, some dogs have different skills and talents and are better suited to other paths. Some will join the breeding program, some can go onto Court Companion training where the dogs, with a handler, support people in the court environment. Others go on to be Therapy Dogs, providing comfort and companionship to individuals with other challenges and disability. Those that are chosen for Guide Dog training go onto 20 weeks of specialised training at Glossodia, the headquarters for the Guide Dog NSW/ACT.
“Of course, I’m biased but Tally is amazing. She learnt to sit within the first 15 minutes of being with us and she learnt to use the stairs within a day. She’s obviously extremely smart and she is very well behaved. She’s not a chewer, she slept through the night from the day we got her, and she was very quick to pick up house training.
“At the end of the day they are puppies and there are some in her group with naughty personalities, but we’ve been lucky with Tally. She is calm and not at all destructive. It’s so far so good as far as Tally is concerned and her Puppy Development Adviser is extremely pleased with her,” said Virginia.
Karen Hayter, puppy development manager at Guide Dogs NSW/ACT said volunteer Puppy Raisers and generous donors play a vital role in helping Guide Dogs NSW/ACT continue with their important work and services.
“Thank you so much to all our Puppy Raisers, including Virginia who help us turn cute Labrador puppies like Tally into life changing Guide Dogs. Thank you also to our generous supporters like Two Way Cranes who have sponsored Tally in entirety. Without your amazing support we can’t continue our work providing services that help people with low vision or blindness lead independent and safe lives,” said Karen.