Matamata woman Rosemary Locke, 66, lost her eyesight when she was in her 20s and working as a nurse for Matamata Maternity Hospital but thanks to furry helpers, like her current labrador Honor, she does not miss out on life.
"The hardest thing about being blind is that you can't do what you want or get out of the house without help. Thanks to my guide dog, I have my independence."
Guide dogs - Honor is her fourth - navigate through the supermarket and accompany her wherever she wants to go. On the open road they guide her around obstacles like cars, bins or even pedestrian crossings.
"They are brilliant traffic control - even when there are other dogs on the street, they don't take any notice. Guide dogs are looking after you, even at home, they are never far behind you," Rosemary says.
At first, she says she didn't even think about getting a guide dog. Until one day, she went to a Rotary meeting with her father Dom where a guest speaker talked about guide dogs.
"I couldn't imagine that guide dogs do what they do and guide me to all the places I want to go, but they are so intelligent," Rosemary says.
She then applied for a furry helper at Blind Low Vision NZ - and was put on a waiting list as it takes almost two years to train a guide dog. Blind Low Vision NZ breeds and trains about 100 puppies each year.
"I was without a guide dog for a couple of years. And when they told me they had some available, they took my height and walking speed to find a suitable dog. Then, I had to go to a matching."
After a suitable dog is found, Blind Low Vision NZ brings the dog around to the applicant's place for the animal to get used to the environment. "And they teach you how to work together as a team," says Rosemary.
For Honor, it took Rosemary three meetings to get matched up. But this wasn't her first rodeo: "I got my first guide dog, a Schnauzer named Benson, 35 years ago. Honor is my fourth guide dog in total and my first female."
Blind Low Vision NZ also comes around regularly to check on both the guide dog and owner. At the age of 9, Blind Low Vision NZ would let the furry friends retire.
"You can decide to keep it and have another one as a guide dog, which is what I used to do. It is hard parting with a dog because you have been a team for several years," Rosemary says.
"Of course the guide dogs can't drive a car, but they are my wheels because they can take me everywhere."
But for the rare occasions Rosemary needs a car, she has her mother Joan who is living with her. "Honor loves being in the car, she always falls asleep."
Rosemary says that her day is always full. "I do almost everything I used to do before I lost my eyesight. I am baking and knitting for my nieces and nephews, I read a lot of magazines and Lucinda Riley books, and I am part of several organisations."
She is vice-coordinator of the visually impaired group in Matamata, she belongs to a local church group and Matamata Women's Club. Rosemary also goes into schools to talk about guide dogs - "to raise awareness of the need for guide dogs. The kids are always fascinated", says Rosemary.
"Honor always comes with me to all my meetings, she then just quietly curls up under the table and you won't even notice she is there. I couldn't be where I am now without her or my other guide dogs."
On Friday March 26 and Saturday March 27, Blind Low Vision NZ (formerly Blind Foundation) Red Puppy Appeal will start a street collection to raise funds to train and care for a new generation of much-needed guide dogs.
"My dad was the one who started Red Puppy Day in Matamata - Low Vision NZ even named a guide dog after him. After my dad died 30 years ago, I carried on with Red Puppy Day," says Rosemary.
Every day, an average of six people turn to Blind Low Vision NZ for support with their sight loss. It takes more than $50,000 to raise and train just one guide dog. Blind Low Vision NZ runs the country's only guide dog breeding and training facility that is 100 per cent funded through the generosity and support of Kiwis.
This year, Blind Low Vision NZ has a street collection target of $300,000 and needs 2000 volunteer collectors to join the pack.
Rosemary is one of them. "I couldn't live the life I live without Honor and the help of Blind Low Vision NZ. It is a brilliant organisation and I am taking part in the fundraising to try and give back what they gave me," she says.
You can join Rosemary and Blind Low Vision NZ here or call 0800 787 743