There's something very steady and confidence inspiring in Norris's dark eyes, don't you think? He's a little hero in the making. When he's older, he'll hopefully fill a big set of paws as a guide dog. For now, he's growing up with his carer who takes him out to experience all sorts of new sights and sounds and smells. Car travel, public transport, walking around shops and in traffic, meeting other animals and people so that he learns to be bold and confident.
Norris is one of the puppies we've sponsored through Seeing Eye Dogs Australia (SEDA). We get regular fun "letters" from our pup telling us what he's up to. In his last "letter" , little Norris confessed that, in a surfeit of excitement, he accidently piddled on someone's foot.
Once a year, SEDA holds an open day which is fascinating. Last time we went, we saw dogs at different stages of their training. Gorgeous puppies like Norris showing off basic commands, like sit and stay, right up to the fully trained dogs that were about to graduate and be matched with a client.
The matching process is much more involved that I'd realised. The dog's needs and personality are carefully considered along with the client's needs and personality. For instance, an energetic dog would work well with a visually-impaired athlete. While an office worker would link up well with a quieter dog. Someone who visited lots of different places might need a dog that had the ability to grasp many word commands. And a person who lived a quieter life would manage very well with a dog that had a more basic skill level.
A guide dog gives the gift of independence to the person they are paired with and together they form a very, very special partnership.
One of graduates on that day was Chief who has since gained fame as the guide dog of athlete and Paralympian, Gerrard Gosens. Gerrard competed in Dancing with the Stars and Chief made a cameo appearances on the show. This is a You-Tube clip of Gerrard and his partner, Jessica and you'll catch glimpses of Chief at the edge of the dance floor.
Published on Love is the Best Medicine, 4 January, 2010