Tralee Couple Describes Rewarding Experience Of Being Puppy Walkers For Irish Guide Dogs

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Anne and Gerry O’Riordan with Marcel. Photo by Dermot Crean

A TRALEE couple has told of the hugely rewarding experience of being puppy walkers for the Irish Guide Dogs For The Blind, as the organisation looks for people in Kerry to become volunteers.

The purpose of Irish Guide Dogs’ Puppy Walking Programme is to develop and care for a guide dog puppy from the age of 7-8 weeks to approximately 12-15 months.

The work will provide the puppy with a vital foundation for its future role as a Guide Dog for a visually–impaired person or as an Assistance Dog for a family with a child with Autism.

Anne and Gerry O’Riordan from Riverwalk in Oakpark are on their third puppy now and intend on taking a fourth next month.

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“We got Marcel when he was eight weeks old and we will have him a year in August when he will be leaving us,” said Anne.

“Marcel goes everywhere with me and I can take him anywhere, once he has his jacket on. We do all the basics, like the stairs in shops, into restaurants where he will sit quietly under the table and other places,” said Anne.

The puppy walker’s job is to rear the puppy and educate it so that it becomes a well-mannered, well adjusted, socially acceptable animal.  This education forms an essential foundation for the future.

“The biggest thing really, when out and about, is that people don’t pet him when he has his [guide dog] jacket on, because he is working,” said Gerry, which, having met Marcel, can be tough as he is such a lovely dog.

“A lot of people — because they are such nice dogs — want to come up and rub him. It’s important that they don’t, because otherwise he will be going towards people all the time, so he wouldn’t be doing his job,” said Gerry.

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The O’Riordans are planning to take on taking another puppy in August but they will miss Marcel.

“We said we’d try it once and now we’re on our fourth dog. It is hard giving back the dogs, but when they go on and you hear the great work that they do for a person that is visually impaired, with autism or as a companion dog, then you would be very proud to have some part in that. Marcel is a brilliant dog and I know he’s going to go on to do great things for someone,” said Anne.

Part of the criteria for taking the dog is that you have an enclosed back yard, that there are no children under five years old in the house and you can’t leave the puppy on their own for too long, because they might get into mischief.

The Irish Guide Dogs pay for all the dog’s expenses in terms of food, bills etc so the family has no expense.

“We don’t get paid for what we do, but we love what we do. They are very supportive, we have a lady that comes once a month to see how we’re getting on and they’re always only a phone call away,” said Anne.

“And we’ve met Roy Keane, that’s another one of the benefits!” laughed Gerry, referring to the Irish soccer legend, who is a huge supporter of Irish Guide Dogs.

Gerry told of how one of the dogs they had affected the lives of a family.

“They are hugely successful with children with autism, having a very calming effect. One of the dogs we had went to a child with autism, who never really slept at night. The first night the dog was in the house, the child slept through the night. It calmed the child and changed their life,” he said.

After spending a year with a volunteer, the dog goes back to the Irish Guide Dogs base at Model Farm Road in Cork for further training and they will then decide where it will be placed.

“It’s a wonderful thing to do and anybody should try it. I guarantee you, after you’ve trained your first puppy, you’ll definitely take a second one,” said Anne.

Anyone can apply, so to find out more about the requirements and all it entails, please see the Irish Guide Dogs website by clicking here.

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