Transforming lives….

Guide dog womanSiobhan Kenny’s work in ‘socialising’ the puppies she takes in is essential to their eventual service as guide dogs to the blind and visually impaired.
Living in Sandymount and now in her sixth year as a volunteer with Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, Siobhan receives the puppies at eight weeks old and keeps them for a year. During that time the puppies are exposed to situations and environments that they will later encounter, like public transport, road works and crowds. “Anything can happen to them, it’s a bit of a lottery. The challenging aspect is keeping the puppy safe. If a puppy is attacked by a loose dog they must be taken out of the programme,” she says.
Known as ‘walkers’ but responsible for all aspects of their welfare, volunteers teach the commands the puppies take with them throughout life.
Dogs have different temperaments and personalities. The job of people like Siobhan is to nurture their capabilities in a caring environment, while at the same time exposing them to real life situations. After 12 months the dog returns to the charities headquarters in Cork to be assessed by a professional trainer.

Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind has existed here for 35 years and the charity receives high profile support from Roy Keane, Sonia O’Sullivan and Annalise Murphy.

Siobhan’s involvement started when her husband met someone who was a puppy walker and thought she’d like to do it. “A few days after the initial interview there was a puppy at our front door….it changed our lives,” she explains.

Benji is a pure bred poodle from a litter of seven dogs who are all in the programme. He is the seventh dog she has had in six years. Three have become guide dogs, two companion dogs and one is still in assessment. Help is always at hand through monthly puppy class and the advice and support of a supervisor.

It costs around €38,000 to take a guide dog from breeding to retirement. The charity depends upon the work of volunteers like Siobhan. The end user can be blind, visually impaired or an autistic child. A guide dog can also help an autistic child and their family adapt to the environment around them.
As Siobhan says, “There isn’t a word to describe it, meeting someone who has benefited through work we do.”

For more information see

By Rupert Heather