Joe has been blind since he was a young child, and he was one of the first people in Ireland to have a Guide Dog, back in the 1970’s. He has had seven dogs over a forty year period, and he remembers them all clearly.
His first dog Ian, back in 1975, had been trained in Exeter because there was no training centre in Ireland at that stage. There had only been three other Guide Dogs in Ireland, so the concept was new, and the sight of Joe being guided around Bray by a dog was a novelty.
irish guide dogs
Irish Guide Dogs was founded in Cork in 1976, and the charity has grown hugely since then, becoming a world leader in the training and supply of both Guide Dogs for people with visual difficulties, as well as Assistance Dogs for families of children with autism. Irish Guide Dogs now have state-of-the-art training facilities, and their programmes deliver the best dog, at the right time, with the most suitable temperament to match their clients’ needs. All of their dogs are offered free of charge, with intensive support and aftercare. The charity has changed many people’s lives with their services, and Joe’s experience is a good example.
Joe’s second dog was called Adam; he was the fourth dog in the country to be trained by the fledgling Irish charity. Joe remembers him fondly, but he was not a success as a Guide Dog, and he had to go back to the charity after three months. He was subsequently retired and rehomed as a pet. Joe reckons that Adam didn’t want to be a Guide Dog. He jumped all over the place, he howled, and he didn’t guide Joe properly. Adam was part of the learning process for the new charity. Dogs are living creatures, with their own minds, and it’s inevitable that some individuals don’t quite work out as planned and anticipated.
Joe’s third dog was Bridie, a Golden Labrador. She was an adorable dog, and she bonded very closely with Joe. As he says, she only had eyes for him; she didn’t bother with anyone else at all.
His fourth dog was Whiskey. She was a contrast to Bridie: an extroverted dog who loved everyone. She was an enthusiastic animal who was great fun to be around.
Next, Joe’s fifth dog was Becky, another lovely animal. By this stage, Joe had a great deal of experience and confidence with his Guide Dogs, and he travelled a lot with Becky, especially around Ireland. Poor Becky died prematurely, developing stomach cancer at the age of just six years. She was the only dog to die while in Joe’s care. It was a sad, difficult time.
His sixth dog, Dillon, was fabulous. Joe describes him as a funny dog who must have been a comedian in a former life. He was mischievous, always getting into a spot of bother with his curiosity.
york is joe’s seventh guide dog
Joe’s seventh, and current, dog is York. Joe says that he has been his best ever Guide Dog. It’s clear from his natural ability that he was chosen for his genetic suitability to the role, and that he he has then had impeccable training from Irish Guide Dogs.
From the start, York has been able to carry out all of the daily tasks expected of a Guide Dog, but one of his remarkable attributes is his unusual ability to rapidly memorise new places and tasks. If something happens one day, York learns at once, and the next day, he will clearly remember the situation, and be able to immediately carry out the correct response. This could be the way a door opens, the sequence of traffic lights, or many other daily happenings.
York has learned many tasks which were never taught to him formally. As an example, when Joe’s mobile phone rings, York stops and waits. He knows that Joe has to answer the phone so that he can talk to the person at the other end. York will only get ready to set off again when Joe has finished the conversation.
He loves his food, and if he was allowed to eat as much as he wanted, he’d be obese, so this can be a challenge. Joe has to work hard to keep him in the prime, lean condition that he needs to maintain to work as a Guide Dog.
Joe says that York is a “people person”: he enjoys interacting with new people that he meets. He like people to rub his head, but he’s also surprisingly responsible: when he is wearing his working harness, he doesn’t relax at all. He knows that he is “on duty”, and he never forgets his responsibility to be accountable to Joe. Joe realises this, and if the situation allows it, when there’s someone friendly around, Joe drops York’s harness. The dog knows immediately that he is no longer “working”, and he can then relax and interact with the person.
There are times when York can misbehave; if he sees another dog, the temptation to say hello and get involved with saying hello to the other animal can be too much. Joe has learned to pre-empt such situations, so that if York starts to react to another animal, he says “Leave It”, and York normally responds. The other key phrase is “Oi!”; when Joe says this sharply, York immediately remembers his duties, and starts to behave.
Joe doesn’t think that York knows that Joe can’t see; he only understands that his task in life is to look after Joe. And this remarkable Guide Dog performs this role supremely well.
To donate to Irish Guide Dogs, www.guidedogs.ie/give-support/