“My Guiding Light”

Remember i mentioned about
Me being in the paper
Well the article was published in the 8th May edition. Unfortunately when we were doing some of the photos we got some of Ushi and Della playing. We thought this would be good because we could get the message out about the fact that our dogs are just dogs at the end of the day. Those photos weren’t put in because…the editor said you could see their teeth! I think this was totally stupid because when they are together they wag away and you would have known just to look at them that they were playing. So we took a photo of them after a free run instead.

The pictures were put in on the facebook page for the guardian but i couldn’t access the article. I emailed the editor and he so kindly got one of the reporters to send it to me. I’ll post the text then the photos. I’ve a couple more pictures to get but i’ll add them when i get them.

Highlighting the vital work of the Guide Dogs Association
Meet Della and Ushi –  guiding lights in the darkness!

By Shauna Loughran
THEY say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but meet Della and Ushi, two of the most precious friends of local women, Julie Graham and Tori Tennant!
Julie from Cushendall and and Tori from Ballymena are registered blind and rely on their faithful ‘friends’ to safely negotiate them through the obstacles
of everyday life.
And it was clear, as the owners fussed around their canine companions, the dogs had become as much of a family pet and close friend as well as highly skilled
Guide Dogs.
Speaking to the Ballymena Guardian , Julie explained: “I’ve had Della for about a year and having her has improved the quality of my life dramatically.
“For me personally, having Della has helped my health. I can go on walks, get exercise and just have my independence.
“Della is a great friend. She is brilliant company and is very protective.”
Tori had a similar story to tell. She said: “I have had Ushi for 18 months. I did not like using my cane and now, as long as I know where I am going, I
can put Ushi on her harness and I feel completely safe.”
Tori joked: “They say it takes around six months to bond with your guide dog and in those months, just like a bad child, Ushi certainly tested me!”
However, even on the occasions Ushi still behaves like a playful pup, Tori feels confident that she is safe and secure when out and about with Ushi.
Considering the life changing impact these dogs have had on Julie, Tori and many others, it is all the more surprising to note that the Guide Dogs for the
Blind Association receives absolutely no government funding.
Alison Hanna, organiser at the Antrim and Ballymena branch informed us that Guide Dogs for the Blind is one of the oldest Charities in the UK, having celebrated
their 80th anniversary in October last year.
She said: “Our aim is to provide Guide Dogs and other mobility services that increase the independence and dignity of blind and partially sighted people. 
“We also campaign for their right to have the same freedom of movement as everyone else.
“The Guide Dog Service is at the heart of what we do, but it is not suitable for everyone. 
“We are developing new services to help more of the 180,000 blind and partially sighted people who cannot leave home alone.
“One of these is Long Cane Training, another is the Sighted Guiding Service.
“Without any Government funding we are entirely reliant on the generosity of the public to continue our work.”  
Alison explained: “The Guide Dog Association costs £47m to run each year and the cost of one Guide Dog from breeding until retirement totals £50,000. 
“This includes all food and Vet care for every Guide Dog throughout its working life.
“The Antrim and Ballymena Branch was founded less than two years ago and to date we have raised £25,000, half the price of a Guide Dog.
“Two thirds of the money we receive is left to us through ‘Legacies’. The other third is raised by Fundraising Branches.
“We use a number of measures such as stalls at local Agricultural Shows, shopping centres, outside store and street collections, Country Concerts, Table
Quiz’s and giving talks at local schools, clubs etc.
“Guide Dogs is currently campaigning for food for assistance dogs to be made VAT exempt. This would save our Charity approximately £300,000 each year.
“At the moment VAT rules exempt greyhounds and classes them as ‘working dogs’. 
“It is unfair that the greyhound racing industry, one of Britain’s most popular spectator sports, can benefit from this tax break when Guide Dogs that provide
vital support do not qualify.
“There are about 100 Guide Dogs in Northern Ireland, with three in the Ballymena area and two in Antrim.
“Across the UK The Guide Dog Service transforms the lives of approximately 4,500 people each year. This is the number of working Guide Dog partnerships
at present.
“At the moment we are training 780 dogs a year and we hope to increase this to 900 new partnerships annually by 2014.”
Guide Dog puppies are bred through the charity to ensure humane conditions. A new breeding centre was opened at Leamington Spa in England last October and
the most common dogs used are a Labrador/Retriever cross, Labrador, Golden Retriever or German Shepherd.
Alison continued: “When ‘Guide Dogs’ began in 1931, German Shepherd’s were the most commonly used dogs. Later other breeds came to be preferred.
“The essential characteristics were that they should be willing workers, used to people and other animals and not afraid of noise or crowds. The Labrador
became the most recognised breed of Guide Dog.
“However it was discovered that after training the Labrador had approximately a 65% pass rate. When crossed with a Golden Retriever, this pass rate rose
to 90%”.
“When each litter is born, they are given a letter of the alphabet. Della was born in a ‘D’ litter so therefore all puppies had to named beginning with
the letter ‘D’, while Ushi was born in a ‘U’ litter”.
“Companies, community groups, schools or individuals can ‘Name a Puppy’ through various Sponsorship schemes. The minimum donation is £2,500.
“Any dog that doesn’t qualify to work as a guide dog is still a highly trained, efficient dog and they will be offered to other charities, e.g. ‘Hearing
Dogs for the Deaf’, or become employed as police dogs, CSI dogs or sniffer dogs at Customs, meaning the amount of money spent on the dog has not been wasted.
“Puppies begin training at 6 weeks old, spending a year with their Puppy Walker and after that Training School for Basic and Advanced Training.
“After a rigorous regime, they are ‘matched’ with a client. The dog and client are introduced and spend two weeks ‘in class’ where they are given time to
bond and develop their working skills.
“Once the new Guide Owner has learned a ‘route’ in their area, aided by a mobility instructor, they are qualified and begin their working partnership.
“A working Guide Dog’s life would usually span about eight years after which the owner is given the chance to keep the dog as a pet, depending on suitable
financial and home circumstances, or the dog can be given to a family member as a pet.
“We make a lifetime commitment to each Guide Dog Owner to provide them with a Guide Dog for as long as it is a suitable and safe means of mobility. A Guide
Dog Owner may have up to eight dogs in their lifetime.”
Guide Dogs enrich a blind or partially sighted person’s life considerably, allowing them to be independent and mobile. 
Julie and Tori stress that the relationship between a guide dog and their owner is unique, consisting of a deep trust and understanding between one another.
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association relies on your help to help them continue this worthy work and people like Julie and Tori would be lost without
the help of Della and Ushi.
If you can help in any way, would like to join as a volunteer or would like further information, please contact Miss Alison Hanna on 2564 7865 or email


The reporter meets Ushi, Della, us and the branch organiser for the Antrim And Ballymena fundraising branch of guide dogs

Ushi and Della in a car with their tongues hanging out after a mad run.

Me working Ushi for about 10 or 20 steps

Two guide dog owners with their dogs.

In The Paper

Last month, our branch organiser for the Guide dogs branch wanted to have an article about guide dogs in our local paper since they have promoted lots of events for us, and plus one of the women from the branch works at the paper. So we finally agreed that it would be today.

I was planning to walk down and meet the branch organiser, but it was raining so i decided to get a lift down with her because we were getting photos taken and i didn’t fancy a wet dog.

When we got out of the car I was just getting guided to the place, and because we were horrible and walked on the dry side of the pavement, Ushi kept going across us to get into a dry shop. She tried to enter the optitions, the post office, and a caffe before we got to the Guardian office. Boy was it pokey! There was barely enough room for us!

When we got in, there was me, my friend with her dog Della, the person from the branch who worked there, another branch member (who apparently shouldn’t have been there but the woman who worked at the Guardian said that she could come), a reporter, a photographer, and an editor. So it was very cramped. Of course Ushi and Della had to say their hellos while the branch organiser answered some questions. Lots of pictures were taken when the branch organiser was talking and lots of Ushi and Della.

The other guide dog owner from the branch was going to come, but she couldn’t make it. Just as well as i don’t think there would be room!

We then each got asked some questions about what a guide dog means to us, and what they were like. I said that it took 6 months to a year to develop the full bond and that they like to test their owners. I also said that she didn’t like the rain lol.

We talked about if you see a guide dog owner with the handle down, come up and ask if they are okay. We said about us making the decision to cross the road and that you should always ask before petting a guide dog.

I got to play with my friends Iphone after we asked questions and it seemed quite easy to use. Only did a couple of things on it. So maybe one day i will get one lol.

We headed up the street to what we call “the band stand” which is basically where you can sit and sometimes there are people who preech there too. Thankfully it had dried off a bit by this time. The photographer wanted a picture of the dogs working, so i walked towards the branch organisers voice and then stopped when i got to her. My friend then did the same but the extra person who came along decided that she would guide her as my friend was holding the harness! We then got us two together and the dogs having a mad play. They were in their harnesses but we were just standing there and it meant that they weren’t working. I guess the urge must have been too strong for them lol.

The reporter said how good it was that they were just being dogs.

So hopefully it will be in this weeks or next weeks paper. I hope i will be given permission to post it here. They are emailing a copy to the branch organiser for her to post which is good. At least they won’t publish anything wrong i hope! Aparently we could get a full page which is great!

It was a great 45 minutes roughly. I was a bit nervous but had no need to be!

I’ll post it when i get permission and when it comes out.