After being diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease in childhood, Cassie took every step to allow her to live the life she chooses.
Cassie was diagnosed with Stargadt’s disease at the age of 12 and was declared legally blind in her early 20s.
Recognising her diagnosis would present challenges when it came to employment and remaining independent, Cassie sought assistance to help her develop the necessary skills to overcome these.
Cassie undertook braille and assistive technology courses before her vision deteriorated too far, equipping her with skills needed at home and work every day. She also undertook white cane training and used an ID cane when navigating the community. A small monocular became a vital day-to-day tool to allow her to identify items at home or out shopping.
Despite this, Cassie noticed in recent years her vision loss was having a greater impact on her life. “I was doing well with the vision I had, but it got to the point where I was worried every time I had to cross a road,” Cassie said.
“I found I was also avoiding going to new places unless I had someone I trusted with me. I finally thought enough is enough. I need to accept my vision loss and get my independence back,” she said.
A Vision Australia employee, Cassie was fully aware of the impact a Seeing Eye Dog could have in her life and joined the waiting list. In November 2019, Cassie was matched with Neesha and was part of a group of five new Seeing Eye Dog handlers that recently completed their training.
Cassie spent two weeks training in Melbourne, housed in the Seeing Eye Dog accommodation in Kensington, before returning home for further training in her local environment.
Cassie said she was initially unsure about what the first two weeks would be like, but said it was the perfect introduction to Neesha and having a Seeing Eye Dog.
“Having done it now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Your focus is purely on the dog. You’re not worrying about what you’ll cook for dinner, not worrying about chores.
“Everything we needed was provided, and the focus is 100% on you and the dog, and that’s the way it should be. It’s good to hear the theory, but actually doing it in practice there was a life changer.”
Cassie’s training continued closer to home, with a Seeing Eye Dog instructor working with her and Neesha around catching buses, going to and from work, and the nearby shops.
Now home and settled, Cassie said Neesha being by her side has already had a huge impact on her day-to-day life and how she experiences the world.
“Neesha has slotted into my household beautifully. With the advice from the instructors, Neesha has been introduced to the family including her new housemate, Cookie, our 10 year old Maltese Terrier.
“I didn’t realise how slowly I had begun to walk without a dog, I’m moving much faster with Neesha by my side. Another thing I noticed is I always walked with my head down, but now, I’m walking with my head up high with Neesha by my side.
“I now feel I can do what I want to do independently. I’ve been listening to people talk about the work we do for the past 12 years, but to experience it is totally different.”