Jun 22, 2020
Interviews & Inspiration | Lauranne Heres
Planet Dog 3: This time, we’re talking to Camilla and Isabel, both 29, who foster Guide Dogs that are training with the Guide Dogs For The Blind Association. They currently have one at home, called Maxwell.
How long have you been fostering trainee guide dogs?
Isabel: I started in December 2016.
Camilla: I started when I moved in with Isabel in September 2018.
How did you find out about the programme and get involved?
Isabel: I was looking for volunteering opportunities with animals and this came up on Google. Since I grew up with dogs this was perfect.
Camilla: I signed up since Isabel was already doing it and we can split who’s bringing in the dog in the morning and who is picking him/her up in the evening. I also miss my family’s dogs who are back in Germany, so this has been nice.
How long on average do you have a dog at home?
Both: It really varies, but usually around 3 months. The longest one we had, called Paso, was for 8 months as we had him for his early and advanced training. Then he was withdrawn as he had allergies, and we had him until they contacted his puppy walker family and sorted everything out. We usually have the dogs who are doing their advanced training (so before they are matched with their person), and that is usually around 3 months. We did have a couple of short-term dogs (2 for 10 days and one for a long weekend), which is usually when their boarders are going on holiday or in emergencies.
What are the perks of doing this versus having your own pet?
We both want to have a dog, but with both of us working full time that would be difficult (and expensive!). So, doing the boarding for guide dogs gives us the opportunity to have a dog who is already well behaved. It is difficult letting them go though, which is why you want the next one relatively quickly. Another slight disadvantage is that you basically have no social life as you have to look after the dog. You can leave them alone for up to 4 hours, but some dogs don’t like being left alone for too long.
Do you ever follow up on the dogs you've fostered to find out if they completed their programme?
We only know about what some dogs have become from the ones we had longer. For one dog, whom we absolutely loved, we actually included a letter to his new owner and his family replied with photos and updates. We might meet him for a walk at some point.
What are important rules you need to obey so the dogs continue their training in your home?
They either have to sit/stand still at streets (depends on what the trainers are doing). They have to walk downstairs slowly (sit before going down, stand on first step when going up).
Then we are reinforcing their recall training - when feeding them blow the whistle three times before they can eat - and then doing the free run blow three times for them to come back (and reward them with a treat).
We also have to observe that they have a regular spending - they have to go on concrete (street curbs) and at specific times - morning/evening - so we’re trying to regulate it (which doesn’t always work).
Do you always get the same breed of dog?
They do vary but are usually a mix of certain dog breeds. We had one pure Labrador, one pure Golden Retriever, a mix of German Shepherd and Golden Retriever and currently we have a Labrador/Golden Retriever!
You’ve had Maxwell since February, what has happened during lockdown? Did he still have to go in, or did you just keep him at home? Have you had to continue their training? Do you know when they'll be able to go back?
In the beginning, his trainer still came by every day and took him out for about an hour. But she was furloughed and now we have him at home permanently. We continue to do the things he was taught previously but can’t do more than that. We don’t know when they will be able to start proper training again. The association is currently unable to do fundraising events, which probably makes things exceedingly difficult. They did provide us with a 12kg bag of food though, and we bought some treats to have around.
If you would like to be considered as a boarder for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, if you want to volunteer or fundraise; or if you are able to make a donation, please check out their website here.