Kim Fulton is a NZME. News Service regional reporter

Companions are life changing

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John Williams with retired seeing eye dog Gracie (left) and current dog Omar. The Red Puppy Appeal is on this week. Photo / Andrew Warner
John Williams with retired seeing eye dog Gracie (left) and current dog Omar. The Red Puppy Appeal is on this week. Photo / Andrew Warner

A Rotorua man says his two guide dogs are his companions and have changed his life.

John Williams' original dog, Gracie, had to be retired recently when she got cancer in one of her eyes but he kept her as a pet.

"I've had her for quite a number of years and there's no way that I'll ever get rid of her," he said.

Gracie was still helping him out with things, even though she had retired.

Mr Williams received Omar earlier this month and said he was a spitting image of Gracie. Both were small black labradors with the same mannerisms.

"They've got on like a house on fire."

Omar is 4 years old. He had been working as a guide dog previously and was now adjusting to his new owner.

Mr Williams said the dogs kept an eye on him around the house and were by his side whenever he got up.

"They become your companion basically."

They only had to go anywhere once and they'd remember the way, he said.

"They're just absolutely marvellous. I mean, they're life changing, they really are."

Blind Foundation guide dogs adoption programme co-ordinator Fiona Notton said the foundation had just one other guide dog team in Rotorua.

The Blind Foundation is urging people to contribute during the Red Puppy Appeal street collection this Friday and Saturday. The annual appeal raises funds for the breeding and training of guide dogs.

The foundation said guide dogs gave people who were blind or had low vision the freedom and confidence to live an independent life.

Spokeswoman Alison Wheatley said guide dog puppies went through two years of rigorous training before they graduated. Their working life was between eight and 10 years.

Some of this year's graduates would go to people who had not had a guide dog before.

"We don't charge people to receive a guide dog - all the costs for breeding and training are met by public donations.

"That's why the Red Puppy Appeal is so important," said Ms Wheatley.

- Anyone keen to donate should keep an eye out for collectors on the streets, donate online at redpuppy.org.nz or text PUPPIES to 305 to donate $3.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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