North County Leader

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Guide Dogs Making a Difference

Balbriggan local, Tom O’Neill spoke to the County Leader recently and told us what it is like to have a guide dog and how the often submissive animal has made independence possible for him and his wife.

For over 20 years Mr.O’Neill and his wife Breege have used guide dogs and when asked what life would be like without a guide dog, he said for a person with sight, it would be like “taking the car out of your life,if you did you would lose your mobility and your independence.”

There are four stages that guide dogs go through until they reach retirement around nine years old after which the dogs are quickly snapped up by dog lovers. O’Neill said, “So far I’ve had guide dogs called Bruce, Kola and Sarge and my wife Breege has had Gypsy, Abby and Unice. We want to keep our dogs when they retire, but logically it doesn’t work. But there is a big demand for them,” he said.

For Paula Corcoran, a dog walker from Balbriggan, it’s the first time that she has got involved in stage one of a guide dogs training and she said that it was after she had seen an advertisement in the County Leader that she decided to get involved with guide dogs. “We thought we’d go a step further. It’s great for the family to do something for someone else, but it is not something you take on lightly,” she said.

Ms.Corcoran described to the County Leader what it has been like for her and her family training a guide dog.

“For the dog, life is very strict,” she said. “They can’t jump up on the furniture and they can eat only when we blow a whistle. But it’s all about rewarding them when they do it right, so hopefully it catches on,” she said. With only 182 working guide dogs in Ireland and two in North County Dublin, it’s clear that not every dogfits the criteria to be put in training. But when they do, they certainly make a difference in the lives of those who use them.