East Ipswich resident Heather Kidd with her guide dog Julia.
East Ipswich resident Heather Kidd with her guide dog Julia. Rob Williams

Getting to the heart of what makes a guide dog so special

This year's International Guide Dog Day comes at a time when we couldn't be more grateful to these life-changing dogs, and the special role they play in the lives of Queenslanders with low vision or blindness.

Times of struggle always remind us what makes Guide Dogs so special - from the practical support they offer to people with low or no vision, to the comfort and companionship that is needed now more than ever.

To mark the day (29 April), we've spoken to East Ipswich Guide Dog handler Heather Kidd to find out what makes her Guide Dog Julia so special to her.

Ms Kidd started losing her vision as a teenager, and doctors predict she will eventually be completely blind. Losing her sight made it difficult and uncomfortable getting around, especially in the Brisbane CBD where she works.

But just over a year ago, in March 2019, Ms Kidd and Julia became a team - Julia with a purpose, and Ms Kid with a renewed sense of independence and confidence.

"Using a cane to get around meant that I would get knocked a bit, or I would accidentally bump people with the cane. Now having Julia, she works her way around any obstacles in the way and keeps me safe," she said.

"She is a beautiful dog, and more than a Guide Dog to help me navigate around. She is a companion. She is missing work a bit now that I am working from home, because everyone in the office just loves her, and she loves them."

Guide Dogs Queensland CEO Michael Kightley thanked the Queensland community for its unwavering support of Guide Dogs since the organisation formed 60 years ago, in May 1960.

"From the very beginning 60 years ago through to today, Guide Dogs has been a grassroots community organisation that has relied on the generosity of Queenslanders to provide Guide Dogs for those who have low vision or blindness," Mr Kightley said.

"It costs $50,000 to breed, raise, train, and match a Guide Dog, but the independence and confidence every Guide Dog gives to their handler is absolutely worth it."

"A lot has changed since 1960. Over the past few decades we have been able to establish our own breeding and training program at our Bald Hills site, which has allowed even more Queenslanders in need to be matched with a life-changing Guide Dog. We have also expanded our programs to include cane training, counselling, occupational therapy, lifestyle activities, and kids' camps for our clients."

But, International Guide Dog Day is the day to celebrate the incredible life-changing Guide Dog.

"To be involved in the process of changing someone's life is truly remarkable," Mr Kightley said.

"People with blindness or low vision often feel isolated from their community because they don't have the confidence to take part in the activities they once used to. The person trains just as hard as the dogs, if not harder, to create this perfect team between handler and Guide Dog - sometimes spending years preparing for their 'perfect match'. When the handler and Guide Dog are eventually matched, there is an unprecedented level of confidence, safety, and freedom for the person - and an undeniable bond between Guide Dog and handler that is like no other."