Ninety years ago, two women set out to train a handful of dogs to support three blind soldiers in the First World War.
In the decades since, her humble company has grown into Guide Dogs UK – one of the most popular organizations in the country.
The charity provides a lifeline to some of the two million Brits living with vision loss, has trained 36,000 guide dogs and currently supports more than 5,500 people.
It is responsible for 8,400 puppies and dogs at all times.
On Monday, ahead of Wednesday’s major anniversary, two of its patrons – Faye Winter of Love Island and Susie Dent of Countdown – urge readers to support it.
They explain their own role in the charity’s work, saying that they continue to need generous volunteers and donations to keep their services going.
Susie, 56 – the master word smith in the dictionary corner of the Channel 4 quiz – told the Sunday Mirror, “You only need to speak to a guide dog user to appreciate the monumental impact of the animals.
“It enables a freedom that many with vision loss could never have considered. The loving relationship between humans and dogs is impossible to articulate. “
Guide dog owners do not pay so that no one is excluded from help due to lack of money.
But the cost of a single guide dog from birth to retirement is around £ 72,000 – all of which comes from donations and bequests.
Faye adds, “They are the UK’s largest working dog breeder – but I don’t think that shed enough light on what they do and how they change the lives of so many people.”
The reality star, meanwhile an influencer with more than a million followers on Instagram, is a boarding school for the charity – he offers guide dogs in training a temporary home.
She is one of more than 16,000 volunteers.
Since 2017 she has looked after six dogs, from several months to a year.
Saying goodbye to her youngest Flossie in February was “the hardest break-up of her life,” she says.
Faye, 26, speaks through tears: “You have all helped me personally and have been a consolation with things like breakups. It makes it easier for them to leave when they know that they are giving someone this life that they would otherwise not have. “
She recounts how the third dog she hosted enabled Ella, a mother near Saltash, Cornwall, to complete the school run.
Faye says: “Without Ella, who learned the way, she would not have been able to take her five-year-old boy to school. She’s been blind since college, her last guide dog took her to the altar.
“For some, blindness can happen overnight – adjusting to it is enormous. The dogs change everything. “
Susie got involved three years ago after being touched by one of the charity’s beneficiaries.
Craig, a regular in the countdown crowd, told her that he was only able to get to the show thanks to his trusty guide dog, Bruce.
Susie says, “Craig taught me the difference Bruce made in his life and the joy it brings. Working with guide dogs has really made me look up from my life and appreciate not only what I have but how I can help. ”
She still remembers her first campaign today. She recalls, “It was with her engagement officer, Dave Kent, and his beautiful Labrador retriever, Chad.
“You starred in a Christmas music video for the Together We Shine charity. It had a line that summed up their work better than I ever could – “You let me be free; you let me be me ‘. “
The idea of training dogs to offer support was the brainchild of breeders Muriel Crooke and Rosamund Bond in 1931.
From a lockable garage in Wallasey, Merseyside, they trained four German Shepherds – Judy, Folly, Flash, and Meta – to help three veterans who went blind in World War I.
Three years later, their pioneering project was so successful that the Guide Dog Association was formally established. They founded their first training center in 1940 and began recruiting volunteer puppy handlers in 1956.
In 1960 a breeding program began with Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.
The charity was introduced to a new generation in the mid-1960s when the BBC children’s show Blue Peter launched a call to collect silver foil and milk bottle caps – to fund two lead puppies and after their training.
Guide Dogs UK is now the UK’s leading provider of services to children and adolescents with visual impairments.
But it’s suitable for all ages – in 2020 the youngest was 14 and the oldest 97.
You don’t have to have lost all eyesight or be registered blind or partially sighted to benefit from its services.
Susie adds, “I didn’t realize what they were all about. Their large print book service CustomEyes lets people tell stories about Dr. Read Seuss to Shakespeare.
“And your habilitation specialists can help with important milestones. I remember hearing from Nell, who was a year and a half when she first got help.
“On her first day of school, she was accepted by her habilitation sponsor Branwen and introduced to her teachers. This level of personal help is invaluable. “
Faye adds: “For a lot of people like me in my twenties, we have time to volunteer. If you know you could completely improve someone’s life, why not? “
I am a fitness trainer thanks to Laura
Jaina Mistry was in a coma for 10 days and went blind after a severe reaction to penicillin.
She was just 17 and graduating from high school.
It wasn’t until 10 years later that she was finally paired with a guide dog, the two-year-old Black Lab cross, Laura.
Jaina, 36, from Leicester said, “Laura changed everything for me.
“She was by my side when I was doing fitness training to rebuild my strength, which made me want to become a personal trainer.
“I didn’t care that a blind woman had never done that before. Laura gave me this self-confidence that cannot be quantified. “
A new leash of life for Archer, Aug.
Archer Leader was diagnosed with vision loss as a baby.
Anxiety and autism were later identified, which made life even more difficult.
But his mother, Laura, says the acquisition of a “buddy” dog – three-year-old retriever Nancy – last May changed her eight-year-old son’s life.
Laura, 33, of Walsall, West Mids, said, “Before Nancy, Archer’s world was basically a two meter bubble – he just didn’t have the confidence to interact with the world and closed down.
“It was devastating to see as I couldn’t help fix things.
“With Nancy by his side, he can explore places he’s never been before, he constantly makes friends with people who ask about his buddy.
“Archer now loves drawing, loves school and just wants to get out the door. He was transformed. “
Amazing new world
Gill Southgate lost her eyesight in a car accident in 1974 when she was only 18 years old.
Getting her first guide dog – her beloved Ruby – gave Gill’s life new meaning.
The medical secretary, now 65 and from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, said, “I got Ruby after I got married. It gave me the confidence to be a mother, something I would never have done if I had to rely on a stick to get around.
“With Ruby by my side, I was able to take our children to school, go in toddler groups. It opened up an amazing new world for me. “