Continuing my mission to make my life more interesting and varied since quitting the rat race, today we went on a tour of the Guide Dogs Training School in Leamington Spa. This is where the puppies go to learn how to be guide dogs, and it’s heartwarming stuff!
Our tour began with an introductory DVD about the work the charity does and how important the dogs are to the lives of the humans they look after. We learned about how they select puppies they think will make good guide dogs, and about the process the dogs go through from birth right through to their retirement aged around 10.
After the video a trainer brought in a dog called Zodiac, a remarkably tall Labrador crossed with a German Shepherd. Apparently most of the dogs that become guide dogs are Labradors crossed with Golden Retrievers, with a few pure Labs and Retrievers and a small number of pure German Shepherds. We also learned about the different kinds of handles the dogs have attached to their harnesses so that their owners can tell which way the dog is telling them to move.
After brief cuddles with Zodiac, we were shown round the kennels, where the guide-dogs-in-training live during their time at the centre (the more sensitive ones live in people’s houses and go into the centre for the day during their training). These two were play-fighting boisterously!
Behind them, wondering why the others were getting so much attention, was this gorgeous black Lab called Oxford. It was so difficult to get any decent photos as the dogs were constantly on the move!
Here’s another shot of the beautiful Oxford.
We were also introduced to the centre’s cat, Oliver, a stray who wandered into the centre nine years ago and never left. Apparently he’s very good at getting the dogs used to cats, and often steals their beds!
The tour concluded with another video telling the story of some of the people whom the charity has helped, including one chap who very nearly got caught up in the 7/7 bombings in London; his faithful guide dog Tom guided him to safety through loads of closed-off roads and barriers that wouldn’t normally have been there.
I’ve put my name down to volunteer at the centre doing some shifts at the puppy creche, which, as far as I understand, involves looking after puppies aged about 8 weeks to a year, taking the little sweethearts for walks and supervising them playing between their training. Sounds perfect, and ideal for me as our house is too small to have a dog but I really miss canine interaction!
If you’d like to do a tour or find out more about the Guide Dogs charity, details are as follows:
Website: details of the tours and how to book here
Opening times: tours are at 2pm on Thursdays and on the first Saturday of the month at 10am (Saturday tours not available in January or October)
Admission fee: tours are free, though donations are welcomed.