Guide Dogs' first ever graduation in Northern NSW
SIX labradors were presented with their hard-earned harnesses and the newest litter of puppies made their debut this morning at the first ever Guide Dog graduation ceremony held in Coffs Harbour.
The graduation, which is usually held in Sydney, marks the conclusion of intensive training for the Guide Dogs who will soon be matched with a person who is blind or vision impaired.
In heart-warming scenes Quota, Panther, Olana, Patsy, Penny and Obie were all applauded today as they walked down the red carpet with their handlers at Bonville Golf Resort.
Meanwhile another generation of 12 budding new recruits made their first public appearance as they will soon begin their training to become life-changing Guide Dogs.
"Normally they have graduation ceremonies - a bit like university - at our kennel in Windsor but we've been lobbying to bring one of the events over here for a long time," said Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Regional Manager Jeremy Hill.
"We've got puppies here on one end of the spectrum and we've got graduate dogs who will now be matched to the right person.
"People have come from miles away to be here today, and it's just a chance for us to say thank you for the support as only 2% of our funding comes from the Government."
Attending the ceremony today was Coffs Harbour resident Matt Preo who received his first Guide Dog Boss six months ago.
Matt was born blind in his left eye and three years ago his remaining vision began deteriorating due to Optic Nerve Atrophy.
"Without the support of Guide Dogs I wouldn't be here. Having Boss is like having a best mate. He gets me from A to B safely and I can put total confidence in him," said Matt.
"There's a complete trust between me and him. I suffer from a bit of anxiety too and he helps me with that, when you you lose your sight there's a lot of emotions you've got to deal with. I don't know what my life would be like without him."
Before undergoing intensive training, each Guide Dog is cared for by volunteer Puppy Raisers from eight weeks of age until they are 14 months old and taught basic obedience and showered with love and affection.
It takes more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train each dog.
For the fifth year in a row now, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has been chosen as Australia's most trusted charity.
Mr Hills added with more than 28 people diagnosed with vision loss a day, the demand for Guide Dog's services are needed more than ever.
"With the demand for Guide Dogs' services increasing due to growing numbers of people having trouble getting around as a result of vision loss, we're incredibly grateful for the support we receive from the community," Mr Hills said.