How 'utterly incredible' guide dogs help liberate the visually impaired

Having a guide dog is a life-changing experience for a visually-impaired person.

Eleanor Roberts from Newport with her retired guide Dog Woody and new guide dog Cally
Eleanor Roberts from Newport with her retired guide Dog Woody and new guide dog Cally

As Guide Dogs UK celebrates its 90th birthday this week, Eleanor Roberts wanted to show her appreciation for the charity and their help over the years in providing her with four guide dogs – who turned out to be her very best friends.

Eleanor, from Newport, is registered blind and is currently the owner of Cally, her guide dog, and Woody, a retired guide dog.

Over the years, Eleanor has had the pleasure of getting to know four guide dogs – Megan, Yuma, Woody and Cally – which she says have changed her life completely for the better.

Without the help of her four-legged friends Eleanor says she would have been left to endure a life of isolation and loneliness.

But the world is now her oyster as everywhere she goes, her loyal guide dogs follow, and she has been able to experience so many more opportunities.

"I have been the truly privileged recipient of four of these amazing dogs over the past 21 years," Eleanor said. "I have experienced first hand the indescribable liberty and quality of life which these utterly incredible dogs provide, just by their mere presence.

Eleanor with Woody, left, and Cally, right

"Without them there is absolutely no way that I'd be able to enjoy the quality of life which I have now, and which, I'm afraid, every sighted person takes for granted.

"Instead, like so many blind and partially-sighted people who lack support and/or friendship, I would be left to endure a life of isolation, loneliness, lack of choice and autonomy, and complete dependence/reliance on others."

Eleanor was born blind, but when she was younger, she had to wait until she was 16 to apply for a guide dog.

She applied as soon as she could and from there began a long journey to Exeter where she would train with Megan for more than a month during the summer holidays while she was doing her A-Levels.

"One issue I had was the fact I was in full-time education, so I had to work around that," Eleanor explained.

Woody and Cally

"The other was that I am musical and played instruments at A-Level and wanted to pursue it beyond education. Most dogs would not sit through what mine have.

"When I was finally able to bring Megan home with me, it was amazing. She was a fabulous dog who was great at everything she did."

Eleanor can play many instruments including the violin, viola, clarinet and the saxophone, and currently volunteers for Telford & Wrekin Council.

"Between them they have helped me through sixth form college, university and teacher training," she said.

"They have attended orchestras, choirs and bands of all sizes, and have sat through numerous rehearsals and concerts in venues ranging from local churches to the Albert Hall without flinching and with the patience of a saint – their tolerance of that level of music is truly remarkable and is something which could and would not be expected from most dogs.

"They have helped me volunteer and fundraise for a number of organisations, including Guide Dogs, of course. Woody and Cally are also crucial members of Telford and Wrekin Council's Assistive Technology Team, which runs weekly from the council's new Independent Living Centre.

"However, without the independence that Cally gives me, I would not be able to attend the centre and help provide the support and services to the public that we do.

"All these things aside though, the mere ability to carry out the most simple of things, such as being able to decide to go for a walk when and where I want to, or to meet for a coffee with friends when and where I want to, without having to first check the availability of others and rely on them for help is, for a blind person like me, absolutely priceless, and would be completely impossible without my amazing Guide Dog by my side."

Eleanor hosted a celebratory tea party for the charity's 90th birthday on Saturday, to help raise money and continue the Guide Dog's work.

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