'It’s crazy how much it opens your world'

Three adorable pups have arrived in Donegal to embark on the first year of their extraordinary and important lives.

Bowie, Becky and Betsie aren’t just cute 10-week-old pups, but three hopeful guide dogs or assistance dogs who will be learning the basics with their puppy raisers in 2024.

The trio has already captured the hearts of the supportive community in the Irish Guide Dogs Donegal Branch.

Donegal’s newest arrivals Bowie, Becky and Betsie

Now in operation for five years, the local branch has come on in leaps and bounds.

Ten puppies are being raised in the county at present. Eight trained guide dogs and four assistance dogs are providing life-changing services to individuals. Community dog Oreo is a popular fixture at St. Columba’s Comprehensive, Glenties.

As the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind marks their fundraising day on Friday 24 May, it’s also an opportunity to shine a light on the benefits of volunteering.

Annie Gallagher from Creeslough, the Volunteer Support Officer for the West, is co-raising eight-month-old black Labrador Sally in collaboration with another volunteer.

Annie Gallagher and Sally

Between puppy classes, volunteer meet-ups and countless coffee socialisation outings, Annie says there are wonderful ‘pawsitives’ and flexible arrangements for volunteers.

“People say they could never be a puppy raiser because they would get too attached, but when you hear of the dog helping someone get independent or helping a family you get so proud. Families say getting an autism assistance dog brings great positives, from enabling them to attend events they couldn’t have gone to before, to visiting Santa.”

Walking and training dogs to be settled in shops, cafes and workplaces are all part of the puppy-raising journey. It’s a role that brings people together, Annie says.

“It’s crazy how much it opens your world,” she said.

“The social side is everything. There is a great support from our Club Lead Lesley, our Whatsapp group and here in Donegal we have a local initiative where we share pups. Instead of having a pup for an entire year to 14 months, we can share them between homes. 

“Sally has been with me for three months and will go to Moville soon.

“It’s good for the dog to not get attached to you, they become adaptable and can cope with change very well, while their routine stays the same.”

Guide dog puppies are still puppies at the end of the day, and raisers must be prepared for that growth journey, from potty training to house rules.

Becky enjoys time in her new garden

Betsie gets cosy in the cat’s bed!

Annie said: “It’s challenging, it’s rewarding, it would test you, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We are supported in understanding the dogs’ development and behaviours, and there are no silly questions.”

Not everyone has the same lifestyle, but everyone can make a difference! Puppy raising may suit a person who is recently retired, and the shared raising initiative is ideal for teachers. Temporary boarders are also needed to provide occasional care for pups. Also, if you have a pet Labrador/ Retriever that is well mannered, greets people and dogs appropriately and knows basic commands, then they might make a good ambassador dog.

People will have the opportunity to learn about all the available volunteer roles during Donegal’s guide dog day events this week.

  • Coffee Morning: Thursday, May 23rd, 10.45am-12.45pm at the Station House Hotel, Letterkenny. John Wilkie invites everyone to enjoy a cup of joe!
  • Shop Collections: Friday, May 24th, 10am onwards at SuperValu Buncrana, Carndonagh, and Donegal Town. Get a chance to meet a pup and enter a raffle to win a holiday!
  • Variety Concert: Friday, May 24th, 7.30pm-9.30pm at Milford Reformed Presbyterian Church. Featuring live music, performances, and puppies in training! Tickets (€10) available at https://klubfunder.com/Clubs/Milford_and_District_Resource_Centre/TicketSales
  • Community Dog Walk: Saturday, May 25th, 2-4pm at Glenveagh National Park. Enjoy a scenic walk from the car park to the castle with your furry friend (all dogs welcome!)

Tim O’Mahony, CEO of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind said; “Guide Dog Day last year enabled us to successfully match 58 Guide Dog and Assistance Dog partnerships and place 8 Community Dogs in schools and facilities around the country.

“With the training of one Guide Dog costing approximately €53,000 we need immense support on Guide Dog Day this year to achieve our target of changing the lives of 84 families in 2024 through the provision of our services. In addition to those 84 families, we will also support the 400 clients who currently have our dogs.”

For more information visit: https://www.guidedogs.ie/events

Find out about the different volunteer roles available: https://buff.ly/3zD1y9r or follow the Facebook page at Irish Guide Dogs Donegal Branch