Warwickshire Life's Guide Dog puppy makes his first public appearance

PUBLISHED: 11:14 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 18:10 20 February 2013



We are delighted to introduce Archie, our Guide Dog puppy, to you. At just six weeks old he's only just started to learn the essential skills that will one day help a blind or visually impaired person to gain their independence.

Warwickshire Lifes Guide Dog puppy makes his first public appearance

We are delighted to introduce Archie, our Guide Dog puppy, to you. At just six weeks old hes only just started to learn the essential skills that will one day help a blind or visually impaired person to gain their independence. The story so far . .

The first official photograph of Archie arrived in the Warwickshire Life offices to a chorus of aaahhhs this month. At six weeks of age Archie is at his cutest and we think he has a bit of a mischievous twinkle in his eye!

Guide Dogs for the Blind has been around for 75 years. Although it had been recognised for centuries that dogs could be invaluable in helping the blind and partially sighted it was not until the First World War that they came into their own, as Alison Selby, regional development fundraiser for the Midlands, Wales and West, explains.

The modern guide dog story started in Germany in 1916-17 when the dogs were trained to lead soldiers blinded in the First World War. In 1927 Mrs Dorothy Eustis, an American training police and army dogs in Switzerland, wrote an article about these German dog training schools and was contacted by blind American, Morris Frank.

Mrs Eustis started The Seeing Eye organisation in Switzerland and America, which prompted two British women, Miss Muriel Crooke and Mrs Rosamund Bond, to start Guide Dogs for the Blind in 1934, says Alison. The charity now has 4,500 working Guide Dog partnerships in the UK but many more are needed as there are an estimated one million blind and partially sighted people in the UK needing dogs.

It is estimated that 18,000 <CHECK> people never leave the home because of their visual impairment, says Alison.

Every dog is bred by the charity out of carefully selected breeding bitches who, although owned by the charity, live with their adoptive family in a home environment. They have been bred year after year and they have so much history of the lineage of each dog that they can really assess what the best partnerships are, says Alison

The bitches come to the Guide Dogs breeding centre in Bishops Tachbrook, Leamington Spa when it is time to give birth. Over 1,000 puppies are born at Bishops Tachbrook every year. Its a pretty constant flow, says Alison. And then once the staff are happy everything is well with mum and the litter, they can return home.

The puppies stay with their mother at the home of the brood bitch holder until they are six weeks old. Then they spend a year with a puppy walker to learn basic commands and manners.

By their first birthday the dog is ready to go to one of four training camps around the country to learn the crucial skills that will enable them to be placed with a blind person. They learn skills such as stopping at kerbs, judging heights and widths so that its owner does not bump their head or shoulder, and how to deal with traffic. This stage takes approximately eight months and the dogs are constantly assessed for their suitability, says Alison.

Only the dogs which quickly learn basic commands, are confident and comfortable around adults, children and other animals will make it.

But the charity could do none of this without volunteers. Volunteers are absolutely the backbone of our charity. We estimate that we have over 10,000 volunteers from fundraisers to puppy walkers and breeding stock holders, says Alison.

Its hard to imagine that just two years from now Archie will be out earning his keep as a Guide Dog. How does this fun-loving bundle of fur become a highly-trained working dog? Well be following Archies progress every step of the way.

If you wish to get involved contact the National Volunteering Office on 0845 371 7771; www.guidedogs.org.uk

The brood bitch holder

Archies Mum, Tessa, is a Guide Dogs brood bitch who lives in the Bloxham household in Upton-upon-Severn Worcestershire.

Dog lover Christina Bloxham stumbled across Guide Dogs for the Blind about 16 years ago when a friend mentioned it on a meal out and asked whether she would be interested in helping.

She became a brood bitch holder, which in simple terms means looking after a guide dog breeding bitch for its lifetime and breeding a litter of puppies every so often.

Over the years it has been brilliant, hearing about all the puppies, the people they have gone to. And the difference they have made to peoples lives has just been reward in itself, one that we couldnt possibly have imagined when we first took them on, she says.

They (David, her husband is just as enthusiastic) now have two labrador guide dog breeding bitches, called Tessa and Clara, and have the highest praise for the organisation.

They hold your hand all the way through, every single time the bitches whelp they are there at the end of the phone for any small problems you have, any concerns, any worries, says Chris. Their emphasis is very much dont take any chances with your brood bitch.

All expenses are covered, from veterinary to food, even special whelping bedding.

All you have to do is give them lots of love and look after them, she says.

So when the puppies leave the nest at six weeks old do they shed a tear or two?

In a way yes but when you have had eight, ten or 12 little people dashing and chewing at your feet for several weeks it is a bit of a relief! We know they are going on for further training and hopefully when they are two years old they will be going to somebody whose life it will make it a difference to. So we shed a tear in a way but then we look forward to the next litter, it is an on-going job I suppose!

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