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Life with my Guide Dogs by John Gallagher

Working with assistance dogs is an important part of a vets job, frequently seeing guide dogs in consultations. Often vets build strong bonds with these dogs, seeing them through their working careers. We would love to share this wonderful article written by John Gallagher a friend and client of Abbey House. Veterinary partner Lisa Davies has known John for over 10 years when he had guide dog Questa.  John is an inspirational role model who grasps every moment out of life he can. One of John’s hobbies is chess which takes him all over the world.


To be immersed in total darkness is one of the most god feared afflictions that can happen to mankind. Back in the mid-fifties I was born in Sheffield and being two month premature, myself and my twin sister had to go into the oxygen tank or incubator to have oxygen to save our lives. Back then it was not realised that this would cause damage to the optic nerve thereby causing blindness. My twin sister was stronger than me so was taken out earlier meaning that she is a fully sighted person.


Up until the age of 18 I had a very small amount of eye sight which was a real help through my school years and also during my early years living in Sheffield.


When I was training to be a piano tuner in 1973 I went on a training course with my first guide dog Queenie. I had seen my piano tuning instructor use his guide dog Sprite and was amazed. Having a guide dog changed my life. We live in such a visually orientated world with street furniture all over the place, parked cars and bins on our pavements, so having a guide dog meant that I could get around so much better and much more safely. Now I have a new guide dog called Zarah and my old retired dog is still with me and she is called Grace. Zarah goes with me to tune pianos and also to the chess games I play. Zarah is only two years old so she should, if she stays fit, work with me for a least another eight years. Generally the guide dogs will work until they are ten years old. It is amazing the bond one can get with a dog and the difference between using a dog to get around and not having one is truly remarkable.


Thanks to all you good people for putting money into the collection boxes for our wonderful friends.


Some funny things do happen when you have a dog, when I worked Queenie I got on a bus to do a piano tuning and it was packed, so I said to the dog “find the stairs” we will just go and sit upstairs rather than standing up. The dog just looked up at me so we pushed through to the back of the bus “Come on Queenie find the stairs” To cut a long story short someone gently tapped me on the shoulder and said excuse me it’s a single decker!   


So to recap, I first had Queenie a golden Labrador back in 1973, sadly one of the most horrid things about guide dogs is they get old. I then moved on to a collie dog, a black and white Border Collie called Shelley. This dog was much harder work as she was very scared of noise and it took me a while to get her right. Sadly she suffered with heart trouble and I had to retrain with in 1988 with Yvette a collie cross retriever, this dog was brilliant, she had a very smooth coat. Then in 1996 I had a dog called Ricky, a Collie cross retriever again but this dog had big problems, once in a while he would bit other dogs for some reason. His work was good but he pulled harder than ever and in 1998 I acquired a new Labrador called Questa. This dog was so quiet, well behaved and followed me everywhere and after a shaky start worked a real treat. After Questa came Grace who I think was almost human, she is still with me and was a brilliant natural guide dog, truly amazing Grace! So last May I acquired another dog a black Labrador cross called Zarah, she has fitted in so very well with us and she is a very clever dog but you must be the pack leader with her. She has improved so much in the last five months and is getting more like Grace and Questa every day.


No one can imagine what it is like not to see anything at all, it’s impossible, but our dogs give us a much better chance in life to be able to live it.

John Gallagher. 



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