Just like many visually impaired people, I spent most of my time in the security of my home, only going out if it was absolutely necessary or if someone like a family member, friend or volunteer offered to take me. Having always been a very independent person, I have always found that asking someone for help such as a lift to somewhere or the assistance to locate somewhere, took away my right to be an individual. I was trained to use a white cane to get around which made me feel vulnerable in society, and for this reason would never go shopping or visit the hole in the wall to get money from my account or even just to ge a balance on my account. My family had been nagging me for many years to apply for a guide dog, which I always either refused or turned a deaf ear to, but this was to change one sunny day when I had a bad fall where I seriously broke my left wrist which had to be reassembled with the aid of a titanium plate and seven screws.
My family had got their way and I sent off an application to Guide Dogs for the Blind to be assessed for a guide dog, knowing from what I had read that the process of being assessed and then getting a guide dog, could take anything up to a year to eighteen months.
Six months after I was assessed, I was contacted to say that a dog had been found that appeared on paper to meet my requirements e.g. height of dog, in relation to me, the speed at which the dog walked in relation to me and its overall ability to do the job he had been trained to do. So a date was made for a Lady called Louise Malthouse (a guide dog trainer from Weston-Super-Mare) when she would bring the dog with her.
I shall never forget that day as long as I live because a brindle labrador named Burnham (Burnie for short) was to dramatically change my life from that moment on. We commenced an intensive four weeks of training twice daily so that I would learn how to work Burnie and understand the commands to give him while at the same time learning to read signals he would give me through the guide dog harness.
Burnie and Keith
We qualified as a guide dog unit in July 2010 and received regular visits from the trainer to see how we were progressing. First monthly, then quarterly, followed by half yearly assessments. We were now out and about here, there and everywhere just me and Burnie, going to new places and getting back safely, going on holidays, the Theatre and even taking up bowls! Wherever, we wanted to go, or whatever I wanted to do, we did it together. He would take me to work and spend the day relaxing under my desk, supposedly sleeping , but always keeping one eye on me so that he would be ready to resume working if required.
The Winning Team
Yes, we did join a local bowls club which Burnie took me to, where he would lay and watch me play lying in the shade of a large marque, for roughly four and a half hours. The Cover Photo is the result of five years practising and playing at my local bowls club, as the only registered blind person, We won both the Men's Singles and Mens Pairs competitions.
We were together for over nine years as a working unit and it was at a regular visit to the vets to have his teeth cleaned, where dogs are sedated for easier access to the back teeth, the vet noticed a growth on Burnie's soft palate, which she removed and sent away for analysis, the results of which were that it was a very aggressive form of cancer and the expectation was that he would only live for a month or two. Guide dogs for the blind instantly retired him and started the process of finding me another dog to train with. When the new dog arrived, it was clear that Burnie would not cope with such a young and boisterous playmate, so a foster home was found for Burnie in Kingsbridge, South Devon.
Sadly and with a massive amount of tears on my part, I received a phone call on July the 13th 2020 Burnie Passed away. Burnie was my life and as for the new dog, well after just a few months, my Parkinson's got worse and my balance became unpredictable, having on some occasions to walk with two walking poles. Having a deep and difficult conversation with my new trainer, the new dog was returned to the Guide Dogs Exeter training at the beginning of March this year.
Now to the point of my appeal.
Like all charities, Guide Dogs for the Blind went into compete lockdown with all but essential staff being put onto furlough, which meant that all dogs at the National Breeding Centre could not progress to training, while those dogs in the middle of their training and clients waiting for dogs or in the middle of their training all came to a halt. From Lockdown so far, the charity has lost vast sums of potential new revenue and had like all other charities, had to dig into their reserves simply to maintain the high standard of health of all their dogs.
Burnie would have been twelve years old on the second September 2020 and in memory of him and the number of times he saved me from danger, I would like people to help raise £1,000 to help with the cost of training new dogs to the same high standard as my best mate Burnie was. Burnie will then be remembered with every new guide dog and visually impaired person become a Guide Dog Unit