Dave Kent: The special bond of a guide dog

Dave Kent: The special bond of a guide dog

Having a guide dog has opened me up to a whole new world for Dave Kent

As many of you will know, we’re very excited about our new fundraising challenge – to raise enough money to sponsor and name a Yours puppy! But behind the cute face and wagging tail, there’s a deeper reason for our enthusiasm – the chance to change the lives of visually impaired people.

Dave Kent (52) knows first-hand what having a guide dog can mean. Born with congenital cataracts, he had problems with his sight throughout childhood. “I could see enough to ride a bicycle, and terrorise my neighbourhood!” he says in his typically humorous way. “But it was a different world back then, and I was sent to a blind school away from home.”

In 1978, aged just 18, Dave underwent surgery to correct his sight. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned, and he lost his sight completely. “It had such a huge effect on me,” he says. “I was just leaving school, and felt ill-prepared for the outside world anyway, but losing my sight at the same time wreaked havoc with my emotions.”

Luckily, Guide Dogs stepped in to help Dave at his lowest ebb. Although he’d grown up knowing of the charity, he never dreamt he would need their help himself. But when he was given his first dog, Elma, just a year after his sight loss, his world changed forever. “Getting Elma was quite simply the catalyst for change. Being partnered with her was the first step towards the life I live now,” he says.

Dave had always dreamt of becoming an actor, but his teachers told him his only options were piano tuning or basket weaving. So you can imagine his delight when, aged 28, he received his Equity card, having appeared on both BBC and ITV shows with his dogs by his side. “You were fairly limited in those days, but having Guide Dogs behind me gave me the confidence to pursue my ambitions. You can’t put a price on that.”

Guide Dogs promise to provide every guide dog owner with a guide dog for as long as they need one. Dave is now partnered with Quince, his seventh guide dog. He says: “Quince is the most laidback guide dog you will ever meet, a gentle giant. He’s everything you would ever want in a guide dog – and my best mate.”

Together, Dave and Quince go out into the community to spread the word about the work of Guide Dogs, and travel on public transport through London every single day. Dave credits the charity with giving him the independence he values so highly: “It’s not only about the wonderful dog. The organisation has been with me through the darkest days of my life. The pastoral care has been out of this world. They helped me make sense of a world that was alien to me.”

It’s clear how much love Dave has for his dogs, but as guide dogs only work for an average of seven years, he has had to say goodbye to his closest companions many times. “It’s one of the sad facts of having a guide dog. In fact you have to say goodbye twice – once when they retire, and again when they “go night nights”, as I call it. You invest all this deep trust into the dog, and build up such a close relationship with them, so it’s just heartbreaking when they go. One of my dogs, Reuben, went to a dear friend living locally when he retired, so I saw him two or three times a week. When the time came for him to go to sleep, he died in my arms. That parting was very special – to be able to thank him like that at the end was a seminal moment in my life.”

For Dave, knowing that he will have a guide dog at his side for the rest of his life gives him the confidence he needs to live his life to the full – something he will always be thankful for. “The dogs have made me so proud and given me so much,” he says. “They have enabled me to walk down the street with self-respect – 35 years later, that never fails to amaze me.”

Of course, this commitment couldn’t happen without donations from people like you. It costs £50,000 to support a guide dog from birth to retirement. Dave says: “Knowing that ordinary people have given generously for me to have this slice of life is incredible. 4600 of us step out into the world with our guide dogs every single day, and it is truly life-giving.”

Every penny counts

If you want to help us raise £50,000 to sponsor a guide dog for life, why not use Quince’s kennel box (pictured) to help you with your collection? Just pop in your spare pennies, ask visitors to donate a pound when they come to your home, or take it with you to your next coffee morning. Anything you can give will help us to help partnerships like Dave and Quince.

If you would like your own Quince’s kennel box so you can start collecting now, just email your name and address to guidedogs@guidedogs.org.uk or call 0845 372 7488. Once your kennel is filled, please don’t send cash in the post – we don’t want any of your precious pennies to get lost on the way!

You can write a cheque for the amount collected, made payable to ‘Guide Dogs’ (write ‘Yours Puppy’ on the back of the cheque), and send to Freepost Plus RSTT-HYTH-SCHZ, Yours Puppy, Guide Dogs, Hillfields, Reading Road, Burghfield Common, Reading RG7 3YG.

If you already have your donation ready, or would prefer to raise money in a different way, we’d be thrilled to receive it – every penny will help to change the lives of people like Dave.

You can donate online, or send a cheque made payable to ‘Guide Dogs’ (write ‘Yours Puppy’ on the back of the cheque) to: Freepost Plus RTCG-GHHH-YBUG, Yours Puppy, Guide Dogs, Hillfields, Reading Road, Burghfield Common, Reading, RG7 3YG, or call 0870 240 6993 quoting ‘Yours Puppy’

Guide Dogs would love to thank you for your support so please don’t forget to give them your name and address when sending your donation!