A smart idea for Fred

22 March 2017

Seventy-two-year old Fred is a retired Minister of Religion, and lives with his wife, Adele, in Melbourne. He uses Seeing Eye Dog, Smartie

What is your sight condition / level of vision?
10%, 10% each side of central (peripheral), only see black and white and 2D. It’s a neurological disorder. Losing mobility and coordination. Started losing sight about four years ago. It was an overnight thing. I woke up one morning and couldn’t see.

What’s your dog’s name and how old is your dog?
Smartie. Black Labrador. 7.5 years old.

How long have you had a Seeing Eye Dog?
18 months now
Is this the first Seeing Eye Dog you have had?
Sure is

What made you want to get a Seeing Eye Dog?
After the trauma of losing my sight, Vision Australia was very very helpful. It was through them that it was suggested that I apply. So I did that within the first year and was finally introduced to Smartie about 18 months ago. He’s been unreal.

What difference does your dog make to your life? 
Hard to explain in some ways. It’s interesting that I was hesitant to go anywhere, especially by myself. I initially thought that I would get out more with a SED. I had orientation people from Dandenong come out to help me to apply. My problem was that before that I was quite anxious and suffered from anxiety in big crowds. I would have black shadows flicker across my path. I had started Braille, having a lot of problems at train stations, particularly in peak times, and getting abused when people would trip over the cane. I must admit myself, I wasn’t consciously aware of the plight of disabled people. I’ve been refused taxis and entrance to restaurants and motels. Having to fight all time. People will direct questions to Adele instead of to me. I try where I can to get speaking opportunities to speak on behalf of disabled people where I can, rotary groups and things like that.

With Smartie, the crowds don’t bother me anymore because I know he’ll take me straight through and find the path. In essence, I can close my eyes if I get annoyed with the flickering across my sight and let him guide me. I’m able to move around quite well.
We’ve been interstate, flown a couple of times, hired a houseboat up in the Hawksbury. So getting around and doing things like that have been great. 

Are there particular activities you like to do that are only made possible with your dog?

Getting out and about. Neurological disorder is slowly claiming my mobility and the best thing to fend it off is to walk so we walk about 5km a day. We walk to the church and I’m part of the musical team and play percussion.

Has there been a time when you have been particularly grateful for your dog?
There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for him. He’s incredible. Great companion. 

What do you want people to know about how to behave around Seeing Eye Dogs?
I guess the biggest temptation I find with Smartie is the desire to pat him. Even though he has the sign on people don’t necessarily see that. Smartie is very sensitive. He has a very strong sense of distraction. If a person comes to close, he’ll want to go up and sniff. Overall people have a lot of respect for them. 

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