Now that Keller, the guide dog pup sponsored through the generosity of Yours readers, is approaching eight months old, we thought it was time to explore how and why the bouncy puppy got his name.
As you may remember, we ran a competition for name suggestions, and the winner was Julie Lock who suggested ‘Keller’, after Helen Keller.
Helen Keller was an American author, political activist and lecturer, born in America in 1880, and despite being left deaf and blind by a childhood illness, never let her disabilities stand in her way. Thanks to the dedication of her tutor, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, Helen learnt to read, write and talk, and earned a bachelor of arts degree – the first deaf-blind person in America to do so.
Helen was a life-long dog lover and she dedicated her life to championing the rights of blind and deaf-blind people, wrote numerous books, and was awarded countless honours along the way. Our competition winner Julie says: “I think that Helen Keller was such an inspirational character and I hope that ‘Keller’ will be an inspirational dog.”
Julie’s own daughter, Alex, is currently on the waiting list for a guide dog of her own: “We hope that a guide dog, when it comes, will give her the independence she craves as a young person and I know she will love it to bits.”
With the right breeding and careful training, guide dogs can be taught to support an enormous range of needs, and dual purpose dogs are perhaps the most remarkable. Helen Keller herself might perhaps have benefitted from one, if the scheme had existed back in the 1800s.
Making a difference
Angela Hassell, who has type 2 Usher Syndrome (an extreme form of tunnel vision), was the first person in the UK to have a dual-trained guide and hearing dog, named Roddy, 10 years ago. “In fact,” says Lee Stanway, Guide Dogs’ Additional Needs Manager, “the whole idea of dual purpose dogs for deaf-blind people was actually Angela’s suggestion and led to the collaboration with Hearing Dogs and the 28 working partnerships we now have to date.”
Angela’s current dog, a lab-retriever cross (just like Keller) named Mel, has a collar with an extending lead fitted inside. As her dog approaches and communicates that a sound has occurred, a doorbell for example, Angela will take the handle attached to the collar, which extends into an elastic lead, and follow the dog to the door. For danger signals such as smoke alarms, Mel will approach her and make contact before lying down with her paws across Angela’s feet, which indicates that she shouldn’t go towards the noise, but instead leave the building.
“Without the two dogs I’ve had, I don’t think I could have carried on,” says Angela. “I became very lonely before I got Roddy, but then I felt I could get up in the morning and face the world. Roddy was a brilliant dog who was very friendly and got me talking to people. Mel is very cheeky and a real character; we go everywhere together. I’m very grateful to everyone involved in training these wonderful dogs.”
There are currently 38 dogs working in the Dual Purpose scheme, which began in 2003. The dogs are instantly recognisable by their chequered harnesses. The majority of these dogs help dual sensory loss, but can also assist those affected by MS, mental health issues, autism and stroke sufferers, ensuring they live independent and confident lives.
We hope that Keller will go on to create a life-changing partnership and help a person with sight loss achieve their full potential, the same way Helen managed to all those years ago. But we need your help. It costs Guide Dogs around £50,000 to support a dog from birth to retirement. Together Yours readers have already raised in excess of £20,000 to support Keller on his journey. The next stage of Keller’s training will cost around £14,500 and will see Keller put through his early training to transform this lovely pup into a potential guide dog. So please donate today, and help Keller fulfill his guide dog journey and ensure we reach our fundraising target.
As Helen Keller once said: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”
Win an exclusive behind-the-scenes Guide Dogs experience
Yours has teamed up with Guide Dogs to offer a day out to see how these life-changing dogs are trained. The prize includes:
- Meeting a mobility team and volunteers that create these life-changing partnerships
- Going behind the scenes for your own personalised Guide Dogs experience
- Completing a blind-fold walk with a guide dog.
All you have to do to stand a chance of winning is send a SAE marked Guide Dogs Day Out to PO Box 57, Coates, Peterborough, PE7 2FF by October 13. If you don’t wish to receive further information from Yours write ‘No Further Contact’ on card.
If you’d like to make a donation to support Keller you can do it:
- ONLINE: www.yours.co.uk/yourspuppy
- CALL: 0870 240 6993 (quoting the reference ‘Yours Puppy’)
- POST: Send a cheque made payable to ‘Guide Dogs’ (write ‘Yours Puppy’ on the back of the cheque and include your name and address) to Freepost Plus RTCG-GHHH-YBUG, Yours Puppy, Guide Dogs, Hillfields, Reading Road, Burghfield Common, Reading RG7 3YG.
Terms and conditions apply: Choose from 20 Mobility Team locations across the UK. The schedule for the day is subject to change and the offer is subject to availability. Click here for full terms and conditions.
A charity registered in England and Wales (209617) and Scotland (SC038979).