With the advance of technology, new solutions are becoming available for people who are blind or have low vision to get around.
Judy Small has had a guide dog for the past 40 years and says there is no replacement for the social benefits that a guide dog can bring.
“The social benefits of a guide dog are underestimated. In addition to being a good mobility option for guiding, they improve your health and wellbeing.
“Not only do they provide you with a lot of freedom and choices, they also provide companionship and love. A dog develops empathy with its partner and you wouldn’t get that from a piece of tech or a mechanical dog.”
Judy, who is an RNZFB Board member and Hamilton City Council Disability Advisor, got her first guide dog on 3 August 1980 and has only been two months without one since then.
She has had seven – Frisco, Peggy, Teddy, Winston, Isbo, Hetta and her current guide dog Que.
They have all been there for her at different stages of her life. She received Frisco when she was a young mother and her needs were different from what they are now.
Teddy was a pet Samoyed that Blind Low Vision NZ Guide Dogs trained into a guide dog.
“He had a lovely face, like he was always smiling. He was really gorgeous and a public favourite. Even though it is 30 years ago since Teddy worked, people still remember him.”
Winston was also well known by Wellington bus commuters.
“He became sick and eventually died of lung cancer and everyone on my bus route always enquired about him and showed concern for his health and wellbeing.”
She says there has been a lot of changes over the 40 years – the environment has become more challenging to navigate with busier pavements and less curbs, but the public’s attitudes has also changed.
“There’s more understanding of blindness and of guide dogs and the public are getting better at not distracting guide dogs as much as they used to.”
And as far as whether she thinks guide dogs will be around for another 40 years? She thinks there is absolutely no replacement for them.
If you are blind, deafblind or have low vision and would like to apply for a guide dog, call us on 0800 24 33 33 or email firstname.lastname@example.org