Isabella Allen, 27 began losing her sight at the tender age of ten. Supported by Guide Dogs Queensland’s mobility and orientation services, and other support services provided through the education system, Isabella managed to navigate her way through childhood and adolescence.
After spending years using a cane for mobility, Guide Dog Tatum came into Isabella’s life when she was 26. A handsome, brown-eyed, golden-haired Labrador trained specially to act as her eyes was matched with Isabella through Guide Dogs Queensland.
“I have always been a confident and bubbly person but walking with a cane in public places meant doing a lot of preparation before any outing,” Isabella said.
“Now Tatum allows me to participate in more spontaneous activities, knowing that he will keep me safe wherever we go. It is like having my eyesight back.
On average the wait to get a Guide Dog is between 18 months and two years and at present, there are 35 people on the waiting list. However, in the coming years, Guide Dogs Queensland is set to see a spike in demand for working Guide Dogs, which will see breeding numbers jump by 70%.
In December 2018, to help the organisation meet the demand for its service, Hand Heart Pocket provided a $230,000 Significant Grant to Guide Dogs Queensland. The funds will go towards the construction of a new on-site veterinary clinic at their Nursery and Training Centre on Brisbane’s northside.
Guide Dogs Queensland Chief Executive Officer Michael Kightley said the grant would make a difference in the long-term, with the savings helping to develop new programs while also strengthening existing ones.
“An on-site vet clinic will cut our expenses by more than half. At present the organisation is spending almost $220,000 on external vet bills each year,” Michael said.
“The cost to breed, raise, train and match a Guide Dog to one of our clients is $50,000. Over the next five years, this grant will allow us to provide 24 additional Guide Dogs.
“Also, the benefit of having an in-house vet clinic will mean that we will be able to provide comprehensive healthcare from the day they are born and through their working life.”
From Isabella’s perspective, this is a fantastic initiative.
“Having the vet clinic on-site at Bald Hills will be good because the vet will be familiar with Guide Dogs and it will be nice to bring them back to where the Guide Dogs were bred and trained. Also, it can be stressful if they (Guide Dog) get really ill, so it will give me peace of mind to bring him back here,” she said.
“Best of all the savings made by Guide Dogs Queensland will mean more people like me, will be able to get the support they need to lead a more independent life, so for that, I say, thank you Hand Heart Pocket.”
Indeed, Masonic Lodges over many years have provided grassroots support to Guide Dogs Queensland. Ipswich’s United Tradesmen’s and Redcliffe First Settlement Lodges have been supporting the work of Guide Dogs Queensland through their annual Dining in the Dark events.
Hand Heart Pocket Chief Executive Officer Gary Mark said this new partnership was an extension of that support, empowering Guide Dogs Queensland to be sustainable and make a bigger impact for more Queenslanders.
“We are proud to have provided this Significant Grant on behalf of the Freemasons of Queensland, to help make a lasting difference for people with low or no vision across the state,” Gary said.
The on-site veterinary clinic will be officially opened in March 2020.
Photo: Isabella and her Guide Dog Tatum.