Canine more than a friend

By Kim Fulton

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BEST BUDDIES: Jill Clarke with labrador Nahla who acts as her eyes. PHOTO/STUART MUNRO
BEST BUDDIES: Jill Clarke with labrador Nahla who acts as her eyes. PHOTO/STUART MUNRO

Nahla is one of five guide dogs working in the Whanganui area - but to Jill Clarke she is one of a kind.

Ms Clarke has had the golden labrador retriever for three-and-a-half years and had built up a bond with her.

Nahla was her first guide dog and Ms Clarke had gone through three months of lessons with a guide dog trainer from Palmerston North to learn how to work with her.

She said the dog helped her cross roads and get to appointments. She could tell Nahla where they were going before they left home and she would take her there.

Nahla knew how to get to all of Ms Clarke's usual places around town as well as to her own favourite spots.

Ms Clarke said the dog helped with her independence and confidence and provided companionship.

She said she was reliant on Nahla when she first got her but had experienced a bit of improvement with her vision since then.

Nahla still came everywhere with her.

Blind Foundation guide dogs adoption programme co-ordinator Fiona Notton said the foundation had five guide dog teams in the Whanganui area, each made up of a client and their dog.

The Blind Foundation is urging people to contribute during the Red Puppy Appeal street collection on April 1 and 2. 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.

Blind Foundation spokeswoman Alison Wheatley said guide dog puppies went through two years of rigorous training before they graduated.

Once assigned, their working life averaged between eight and 10 years.

Some of this year's graduates would go to people who had not had a guide dog before, while others would replace retiring guide dogs.

"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."

-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.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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