You’ve only joined us from Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs about a year ago, but in your 27-year career, you’ve worked around the world. Can you tell us a bit more about your background working with dogs?
I started training dogs when I was 16yrs old in a German dog sport called Schutzhund. I also worked as a private obedience and protection trainer until University and then launched a guide dog mobility career in 1993. I started in California and Oregon with Guide Dogs for the Blind; Guide Dogs UK in London; Guide Dogs South Australia & Northern Territory; and worked in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane for Seeing Eye Dogs. I also helped start Autism Assistance Dogs in SA and was the programme manager and instructor for Younger Onset Dementia Assistance Dogs, a University-backed 3-year study in Australia.
What keeps you motivated to turn up to work each day?
I love people. It is a privilege to have such a multi-faceted role meeting people from all walks of life in various parts of the world, supporting guide dog handlers in their unique journeys with their 4-legged partners.
You’ve brought a pet dog with you from Australia. What’s his name, and what are some of his personality quirks?
Booboo is a BIG chocolate Lab who used to be an active Seeing Eye Dog in Perth, WA. Amazing story abbreviated: I trained Boo in Melbourne, placed him with a handler in Perth, and then ended up relocating there myself. Sadly the client passed away after a 4-year partnership but by then Boo was too old to re-issue. So it came to be that I adopted Boo after his official retirement…who knew that he would came back to me full-circle!
Boo has been only ‘semi-retired’ or you could say a ‘contract worker’ since he came back into by hands. I still utilised him for various parts of client training, primarily guide dog assessment walks and pre-training sessions for those on our waitlist list in preparation before they receive their dogs. Boo is my heart, my angel, my best friend. Seriously, I couldn’t ask for a better dog. He is special beyond words.
What are some of your best memories involving dogs?
Gosh, I could have a list that goes on and on after so many years and wonderful experiences.
- Playing hide-and-seek with my first dog, a German Shepherd named Tasha
- Going snow-shoeing in Oregon with my black Lab, Danke – watching her jump up and over, in and out of the snowbanks.
- Training my very first guide dogs with their new partners in California.
- Miraculously finding a German Shepherd guide dog match for a fellow in London who had suddenly lost his 5-yr old German Shepherd to a heart attack. What an exceptional match and touching experience in my career.
- Tramping with Boo in the Port Hills. He absolutely ADORES our journeys – whole body wagging and the biggest smile across his boofy head – warms me to my core.
And can you share some of the naughtiest things your dogs have done?
Boo is an exception here. Honestly, he has never put a paw wrong (no joke, angel dog)!
However, my previous girl Danke did not have a halo. One of her standouts – sticking her nose through the swing-top lid of my friend’s rubbish bin in the bathroom, emerging later with the whole lid draped around her head. Another memorable instance with her – rummaging around my colleague’s office and getting into the sex education kit and eating a few condoms. Lastly, the little muchkin nicking a WHOLE rock melon off the kitchen bench when I was out, and pretending like nothing happened.
Outside of Guide Dogs, what are your hobbies and interests?
As I mentioned, I LOVE hiking/tramping; you can always find me up in the hills; I’m also a life-student of yoga, primarily Hot/Bikram Yoga; road cycling; kayaking, and I’m an avid proponent of barefoot/minimalist shoes. (For all my walking, running, and hiking)