Earlier this week, I went down to Guide Dogs National Centre, Warwickshire, for a parent’s workshop and had a tour around the National Centre facilities. The tour was a behind-the-scenes look at how every guide dog begins their journey. We also got to see some of their puppies from the viewing platform as they eat, sleep and play.
Regular readers might know that my daughter is visually impaired and two years ago, we were matched with buddy dog Mabel from Guide Dogs. If you want to know more about the buddy dog programme, please click the link. If you want to apply for a buddy dog for your visually impaired child, please pop over to Guide Dogs for more information.
Before I talk about the different types of Guide Dogs harnesses, let me talk about meeting the puppies! These puppies that are currently in the facilities are around six weeks old. They will have to stay in the centre for a week, before going to their puppy raisers. If you want to learn more about the puppies and the works of Guide Dogs, they do offer 2.5 hour Visitor experiences for a fee of £15 for adults and £7.50 for children (free for under 5 years old). The experiences include a guide, a walk down a sensory tunnel, viewing puppies from the puppy viewing platform in the Puppy Block, close-up video footage, handling artefacts, such as harnesses and canes, and more.
The first Guide Dogs workshop began in 1987 and it was housed in a garage using traditional leather craft skills with a small amount of donated machinery. After two years, they moved to a new 9000 sq foot unit in Warwick and in 2014, they relocated to the National Centre.
The team is made up of four staff and two volunteers to meet their production targets and equipment is despatched to their clients on the same day basis (primarily in the United Kingdom and other assistance dog organisations and some International Federation Schools) and to their mobility teams the next working day. They have 25 different machines to play their part in the production process. On average, each year, the workshop produces 1,200 harnesses, 5,400 medallions, 2,300 leads of all types, 2,100 collars of all types and 1,200 handles. They used approximately 5000 metres of thread and 51,800 steel and copper rivets in the process.
They have made many types of harnesses for individual Guide Dogs owners’ needs or requirements and the dog itself. The white quick-release front fastening is quite commonly used. Alternatively, the white Velcro girth or Velcro breast is great for owners who don’t have the strength to fasten a buckle. The white and red square harness is for blind and deaf Guide Dogs owners. The brown harness indicates the dog is in training. The t-touch harness is for puppies who have just started their training. There are foam top fix softback handle attachments and harnesses and side fix softback with flip handles and harnesses. The soft touch harness is for sensitive dogs. They have vegan Guide Dogs owners catered for with the canvas harness as they are not made from real leather. Finally, they also have soft back handles for dogs who don’t like the handle on their back.
We all had a chance to fasten the harnesses on the soft toy dogs. It was not easy at all. With no visual (we were blindfolded), it was very hard for me to make out the front and back. It took me a long time to orientate myself to the harness.
This was a great experience for me, who is not visually impaired, to experience what it would be like to be and the challenges many visually impaired people face in the real world.
I would like to take this opportunity to share the good work Guide Dogs have done for my family. They have not only helped us with technology equipment like a computer and phone, they have also given us a brilliant dog like Mabel to help Ms C with her mental health. Additionally, they can offer services like mobility skills, life skills, tailor-made books and many more. Please do support them.