WOULD-BE guide dog Heidi’s got a lot to learn – and where better to learn it than at school?
The three-month-old Labrador is right at home among the students at Patterson River Secondary College under the care of teacher Paul Robinson, who is her puppy walker for the year.
“She goes most places with me,” said Mr Robinson, who volunteered for the role last year. “It’s a big commitment because they need a lot of care.
“She comes to class and assemblies and I’m about to start taking her to the shops.”
Although “a little bit cheeky”, Heidi doesn’t forget her Ps and Qs: “At the Year 7 parents’ barbecue she walked around meeting everyone but didn’t even look at the food because she knows she’s not allowed to eat anything but her own food,” he said.
Protocols – by necessity – are strictly followed at school: when Heidi has her guide dog coat on no one is allowed to pat her or talk to her, yet, when she’s in Mr Robinson’s office, or out and about, she enjoys being treated just like a normal dog.
Mr Robinson is charged with teaching Heidi the basic commands of sit, stay and come, but, when the time is right, further training at Guide Dogs Australia will develop her skills and personality until she is judged capable of partnering a blind person for life.
Bred through a US blood line to extend the Australian gene pool, Heidi is one of 25 potential guide dogs being housed with puppy walkers this year.
All going well, she will have a litter of her own before re-joining other trainees at Guide Dogs Australia at the end of the year, making her a well-rounded individual.
“It’s great that I can bring her into school, and the students get a lot out of it, too”, said Mr Robinson, whose had dogs “all my life”.
“Some who may be a little disengaged can come to the office and pat her and leave feeling better” … which makes growing up more than just a dog’s life for Heidi.