Getting to the heart of what makes a Guide Dog so special

Today is International Guide Dog Day and, this year, it comes at a time when we couldn’t be more grateful to these life-changing dogs.

Times of struggle always remind us of what makes Guide Dogs so special, from the practical support they offer to people with vision impairment, to the comfort and companionship that’s needed now more than ever.

To mark the day, we spoke with Guide Dogs client Chelsea Bartlett to find out what makes her Guide Dog Skylar so special.

Chelsea’s vision began deteriorating at just three years of age due to Bardet-Biedl syndrome, but she has never let vision impairment stand in her way. She’s an active young woman who, under normal circumstances, loves shopping, going to the football, and travelling.

This International Guide Dog Day is Chelsea’s first as a Guide Dog Handler. Though she’s been receiving orientation and mobility services from Guide Dogs for more than 18 years, she was just recently matched with her first Guide Dog, a beautiful black Labrador named Skylar.

Chelsea is standing with her black Guide Dog Skylar

Chelsea & Skylar's story

“International Guide Dog Day is especially important to me this year,” Chelsea says. “It’s my first year celebrating with Skylar. It’s a great opportunity to raise awareness about the freedom and independence that a Guide Dog offers.”

Chelsea trialled a number of potential Guide Dogs before finding the perfect match in Skylar and, with COVID-19 restrictions in place, the match couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Chelsea says, “Skylar is providing important companionship while I’m social distancing. I live on my own so having her around has been really helpful in terms of keeping me company but also for my mental wellbeing. Skylar is a good distraction from everything that’s going on in the world.”

“Our daily routine has changed quite a lot recently. I’m now working from home so Skylar and I aren’t catching public transport or travelling to the office as we were before. But if I didn’t have Skylar, I think I’d be finding this time a lot more difficult.

“She’s not just my Guide Dog, she also provides incredible companionship. She looks after me when we’re out and she’s working, and I look after her when we’re at home. It’s an equal relationship.”

The gift of independence is priceless

Chief Executive Officer of Guide Dogs SA/NT, Aaron Chia, says “In the short time Chelsea and Skylar have been together, they have already formed an incredible bond.”

“During this difficult period of isolation, many people are turning to their companion animals as a source of comfort and support. This is especially true for Guide Dog Handlers, so International Guide Dog Day is the perfect opportunity to honour our dogs and their life-changing work.

“While the support offered by a Guide Dog like Skylar is priceless, it costs more than $50,000 to raise and train each Guide Dog. If you’re looking for a way to mark International Guide Dog Day and say thanks to these incredible dogs, please consider making a donation to Guide Dogs so we can continue providing our vital services to the community.”

Guide Dogs Australia has another reason to celebrate this week, having been named Australia’s Most Trusted Charity Brand for the seventh time. The accolade was announced on Monday 27 April as part of Reader’s Digest’s Trusted Brands annual survey.

Mr Chia says, “We take this honour seriously and we deeply appreciate the community’s ongoing trust in us. Despite the difficult circumstances posed by COVID-19, we will continue to do everything we can to enable independence for people living with vision impairment, children with autism, and their families – now and into the future.”

This International Guide Dog Day, we invite you to watch Guide Dogs clients Erin, Daniel, Stephanie and Nikita share how a Guide Dog has changed their lives.