We have over 200 wonderful Guide Dog volunteers. In honour of National Volunteer Week (21-27 June), we got to know four, a little better: George Brock (breeding stock guardian), Jillian Potter (training kennels volunteer), Wayne Sneddon (training kennels volunteer) and Marilyn Valder (puppy raiser).

George Brock with a guide dog

George Brock

What’s something about you that would surprise your fellow volunteers?

For those that know me – nothing would surprise them!  I’m now retired after being an emergency service worker for 33 years and married to my wonderful wife Robyn for 45 years, and to me, she’s still as beautiful as the day we met – raises her eyebrows, shakes her head and sighs!  The downside is I’m a Pom, well, I was, I have now officially been a Kiwi for years so can’t be deported!  We have three sons and so far, three grandchildren. I am totally in love with black Labs and never look forward to handing them back when the time comes. Who else could look after “our” dogs as well as we do, but I guess that’s what all of us think isn’t it!  If it weren’t for my lovely, long-suffering wife, Fiona would be out of a job finding homes for withdrawn or retired dogs – I’d keep them all.

How did your volunteer journey at Guide Dogs begin?

Chatting over a cup of tea one wet, winter’s afternoon my dearly beloved came out with those fateful words – “I would like to become a puppy walker” (as we were known then). Now, it’s very rarely I’ve been stuck for a smartass reply but believe me, I was then!  If I’m totally honest I did initially have some reservations about doing it, what the heck did we know about bringing up a guide dog being the main one. The ensuing period after applying all I was met with when returning home from duty was “Have we heard anything yet?” Then Paula, who I’ve always referred to as The Boss, arrived one afternoon to see if we were fine, upstanding people, safe enough to be let loose on the public with a guide dog puppy. Having The Boss as well as my Main Boss sitting opposite me smiling sweetly and fluttering their eyes at me, I knew I had no hope of declining! The rest is history.

Who are you breeding stock guardian for at the moment, and what are some quirky things about their personality?

Before we became guardians we were puppy raisers, we became a guardian by default, but that’s another story. We are lucky enough to have Oslo who was puppy raised by Marilyn and Terry who, at the time, were also guardians to stud dog Sid (I love that name!!)  In Marilyn and Terry’s wisdom they deemed it sensible not to be guardians of a stud and brood. Out went the feelers and we were approached to become Oslo’s guardians. Knowing nothing at all about what it entailed, we agreed and have never looked back. Thanks, Helen Grant, then Breeding Services Coordinator for Guardians, and all the staff at the Breeding and Development Centre (BDC). She is the sweetest little dog you could wish for, but that’s what we all think of our respective dogs isn’t it!  A quirky thing about her? – That’s easy. If we’re out shopping the minute we join a queue she will lie down and have a snooze, it never fails!  Becoming stationary for longer than ten seconds means sleep time to her.

You must have met some colourful canine characters while volunteering. Can you tell us about some of the dogs that stand out to you?

Mickey, without a doubt, stands head and shoulders above all others. What can I say, one of a kind doesn’t even begin to describe him! The first time I met him, I thought “Jeez, this dog – a guide dog? Never in a month of Sundays”. Despite all of that he was a really neat rascal! I don’t think I was the only one who was gobsmacked when I learnt that he had qualified as a guide dog, then matched and graduated. I was so pleased for him and also his puppy raiser. Jessie, beautiful little gentle black Lab Jessie who had the most amazing amber eyes. She had one litter (if I remember correctly, one of which was the last chocolate Labrador born at the BDC) and then went on to become a working dog. Bridget, another little black Lab, Bridget was Miss Personality Plus, a real character and rascal with a twinkle in her eyes. As a pup, she never appeared to run; she would just seem to bounce everywhere. When she thought it was time to go out she’d bring her PR the car keys or lead, at feeding time her bowl, and drop it in front of him. There are many more, but the list would be far too long.

What’s one of your best memories involving volunteering for Guide Dogs?

Oh my, that’s a hard one said the actress to the Bishop. So very many, can I mention more than one?  All the wonderful dogs and puppy raisers we’ve met. All the staff, Puppy Development Advisors (PDA) at the Centre and the BDC staff – I must have driven Rochelle, my first PDA mad with some of the dumb questions I would ask her as a first-time puppy raiser. The great boarders who love and care for the dogs just as much as we guardians and puppy raisers do, a special thank you for what you all do. But the one that really hit home to me that encapsulates the sum total of what puppy raising means to me, and hopefully all puppy raisers was meeting the lady who our first puppy graduated with. We visited them on a trip to Taranaki and had a wonderful day with them.  As we were leaving, she hugged me and whispered: “thank you for giving me such a wonderful dog”. I had a bit of grit in my eyes afterwards. All of the above is what Robyn and I enjoy being involved with the Organisation, the people and dogs you get to know. I couldn’t imagine doing anything more rewarding. To see the little bundle of mischief you picked up to take home, the hard work everyone puts into them and then hopefully seeing them graduate as a working dog and watching them actually working and knowing you were a part of that happening is an amazing feeling. Unfortunately, some dogs don’t get to do that, but it certainly isn’t a failing on the dog’s part, and it is a sad feeling if your dog is withdrawn, but like life, we’re not all cut out to do what we would hope to. Luckily they are all found a good home to live in or are channelled into some other field of work.

 

Jillian Potter hold a black puppyJillian Potter

How did your volunteer journey at Guide Dogs begin?

I love dogs and have always been interested in the amazing partnership between Guide Dogs and their handlers.  I heard about volunteering at the Guide Dog kennels and leapt at the chance to be involved in a practical way.  After filling in forms and having an interview with the volunteer coordinator, I started volunteering at the kennels one morning a week.  I have now been volunteering for six years and always look forward to my time at the kennels.

As an “on-site” volunteer, what does your role involve?

When I get to to the kennels in the morning, my first thing to do is to see if any dogs need some company. They might be barking because they are excited about all the morning activities, and having someone with them helps them to settle down.  After spending time with the dogs, I help with any cleaning and general housekeeping like washing the dog’s breakfast bowls and loading the washing machine.  When the washing is finished, there are lots of towels and blankets to fold and put away.  Mid-morning I help by taking the dogs, a few at a time, out to the free run area where they can get some exercise.  They enjoy running around and playing with toys.  The dogs can also use up some of their energy on the enrichment playground, which has stairs, a tunnel and different surfaces for them to explore.  The morning goes really fast, and it is soon time to say goodbye to the amazing Kennels Staff and the dogs.

What’s something about you that would surprise your fellow volunteers?

My fellow volunteers might be surprised to know that I also volunteer regularly for ‘Riding for the Disabled’.  We have an awesome group of people and horses, and we provide horse riding therapy for a diverse group of children and adults with special needs.  Many of our riders form a close bond with our beautiful horses. This helps them to accomplish new things and grow in strength and confidence.

You must have met some colourful canine characters while volunteering. Can you tell us about some of the dogs that stand out to you?

I have met many colourful canines over the years.  I remember one young pup who would jump so high that her face would appear at the window.  She had to concentrate very hard on learning to keep all four paws on the ground.  Another pup who was very gentle didn’t qualify but went on to become a companion for a child with special needs.  I remember another young dog who just loved to bark but grew up to become a calm and focused guide dog.  My most memorable dog is one who was looked after by a puppy raiser who I used to work with.  I watched her grow from a gorgeous cuddly little puppy through to a long-limbed youngster and then an adolescent experiencing her first time in the kennels.  A few months later, she came back into the kennels for training, and I watched her grow and develop into a responsible young adult.  I was very impressed and excited when she passed her qualifying walks, went on to be matched with a handler and then graduated as a fully-fledged Guide Dog.

What’s one of your best memories involving volunteering for Guide Dogs?

I can’t really think of one best memory.  Getting ‘muddy, drooled on and covered in dog hair’ is all part of the kennels volunteer experience, and I wouldn’t change a thing.  Just being surrounded by gorgeous, friendly young dogs who are each starting on their adventure to become a Guide Dog is an amazing and rewarding thing to be part of.

 

Wayne SneddonWayne Sneddon

How did your volunteer journey at Guide Dogs begin?

Dogs have always been my favourite animal. They make great companions and are always happy to see you when you arrive home. Over the years I have had several as family pets but a couple of years ago I found myself without a dog, and I didn’t really want to make a full-time commitment to looking after another one. I had also recently finished working so I had plenty of spare time. A friend was a puppy walker for Guide Dogs who seemed to always have at least two guide dogs either for breading or training. I enjoyed being around them so much she suggested that I might like to become Guide Dog volunteer. The idea of being close to these beautiful dogs without having any long term commitment appealed to me. After attending a volunteers’ day, I liked the idea even more. After an interview followed by a police vet check and form-filling to complete the process, I found myself turning up to the Homai kennels.

What’s one of your best memories involving volunteering for Guide Dogs?

On my first day, it didn’t take me long to realise that this was what I wanted to do as a volunteer. The people at the kennels were so caring and positive towards all the dogs. I couldn’t believe that they knew all their names and their various dispositions. Apart from their colour, they all looked the same to me. I found it a great place to be, a highlight of my week.

As an “on-site” volunteer, what does your role involve?

A typical volunteer session might involve sitting with a couple of dogs to give them some cuddle or having a tug of war with a knotted rope. To allow you to take a dog for free running, you are given some basic commands training and a whistle. The dogs love this experience. Some, however, are less responsive to your commands than others, particularly when there is a branch of wood to start charging around with. It is not all about playing with the dogs and giving them company. There is always washing and sweeping to do. The dogs seemed to generate an enormous amount of washing and drop copious amounts of hair.

You must have met some colourful canine characters while volunteering. Can you tell us about some of the dogs that stand out to you?

After a few weeks, I came to the conclusion the dogs all had different personalities. Somewhere merely inquisitive and didn’t really want to have anything to do with you after the initial ‘sniff’. Others wanted more of your attention and were eager to sit and rest against you or pay ball or tug a rope. Two dogs have really stood out for me. Boris, because of his huge size which belied his extraordinary gentle nature and Stella a younger and smaller Labrador – Retriever cross who without a doubt was the most affectionate and gentle dog I have ever come across.

What’s something about you that would surprise your fellow volunteers?

When I am not volunteering at the kennels, I spend some time cycling around the North Shore and West Auckland. I have done two overseas cycling adventures. The last, in 2017 another keen cyclist and I rode from Saigon through the Mekong Delta across Cambodia and into Southern Thailand. It was a wonderful experience being able to meet and eat with local people and savour close up the distinct scenery of the three countries. The trip took around twelve days to cover the 650 kilometres.

I feel very lucky to be able to share my time at the kennels. The caring people and the warm nature of all the dogs make it a great way to share your time.

 

Marilyn Valder

What’s something about you that would surprise your fellow volunteers?

During the lockdown, we celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary, and we are still living in the same house that Terry began building for us in 1972.

How did your volunteer journey at Guide Dogs begin?

In 1988 we saw an article about it in the Herald so applied. We were turned down because we lived in Albany on the North Shore – too far away from Manurewa! Late on Christmas Eve two years later, someone rang and asked if we could take a pup.

Who are you puppy raising at the moment, and what are some quirky things about their personality?

German Shepherd Xian has just celebrated his first birthday. When he arrived to our home at 16 weeks, he had this huge ‘personal bubble’. “Don’t touch my paws, or look in my ears, or open my mouth” …and so it went on, starting with accepting a hand towel then moving to a full-sized one. Slowly those little quirks are diminishing. He also likes to carry toys or chew-bones, more so than retired stud dog, Golden Retriever, Sid.

Where is your favourite place to go with Xian and why?

I was going to say a bushwalk, but since lockdown, we have been walking to a new subdivision that has 94 sections and no houses yet, just two big loops of roading, footpaths, and grass. It’s an elevated no-exit road and looks over the bush to the motorway, and over Oteha Valley Road to the Albany Mall. Xian loves running free there and has a collection of sticks that he selects, carries, and exchanges.

What’s one of your best memories involving volunteering for Guide Dogs?

12th November 1994. Eighteen weeks old Golden Retriever pups Phil and Pierce, the last pair of the 32′ potential Breeding Stock’ from Guide Dogs for the Blind UK, landed in Auckland. At the International Cargo shed, Breeding Manager Wendy Isaacs told us to put Phil’s collar and lead on him, and run for the grass. The flight from England via a short stopover in Singapore took nearly 30 hours and, their crates were dry! Pierce became a working Guide dog two years later and our pup Phil became a (fully trained in those days) stud dog. We called him Finn MacCool because he was born in Ireland. Sid (born via artificial insemination) is his son. I still correspond monthly with Sue in England who fell in love with Phil and the Golden Retriever breed when she boarded him for ten weeks before he flew out to NZ, 25 years ago.