The speaker at the September meeting of the Bude & District U3A at the Parkhouse Centre was Bude resident, Tony Webb. He was accompanied by his faithful dog, Ranger, for Tony has been blind since the age of 18 months and his subject was ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind’. U3A Speaker Secretary, Denni Clarke, who is stepping down from the role after five years of organising the talks schedule, introduced Tony and Ranger.
Denni fondly recalled her own involvement in the breeding and training of guide dogs several years ago. Tony’s dog, Ranger, a handsome pale yellow Labrador, sat quietly by the table with Tony’s wife, Penny, while Tony recounted some of his own experiences with guide dogs. Ranger is his eighth dog. He has been using guide dogs for more than 47 years.
Tony showed his audience how the crucial guide dog harness works and went on to relate something of the history of the Guide Dogs association. The charity was started in 1931 and the first trained guide dogs were available in 1933/34. Initially, he said, it was a battle to get people to accept the dogs in places such as restaurants and on trains. The charity relies on raising funds through public subscription, donations and bequests. It costs about £44,000 to raise and train a guide dog.
Guide dog recipients have to be able to look after a dog, including being able to walk it.
Before receiving their dogs, new owners spend about 10 days in training, meeting their dogs and learning the rules. The dogs are trained to walk in a straight line, avoiding obstacles on the pavement, and the only command they can refuse is ‘Forward’. The audience gasped as Tony recounted how this refusal to move forward by his dogs had twice saved him from a 20 foot drop – on to a building site on one occasion and on to a railway line on another! “I have really benefitted from having a guide dog,” he said.
There was laughter also, as Tony shared some of his favourite guide dog stories. However, there were no tidbits for Ranger for his good behavior during the meeting, for, said Tony, the dogs are not allowed tidbits while working. Earlier, Bude U3A Chairman, Jo Arnold, reminded members that the AGM will be held at the Parkhouse Centre on 17th October when the new committee will be elected. She also announced that Valerie Langdown has volunteered to take over the Speaker Secretary position from October. The next Coffee Morning will be on Friday, 4th October at 10.30 am at the Weir Café.