FIVE, four-legged buddies were put through their paces at the school of hard woofs and passed with flying colours.
It was perhaps the most paw-inspiring graduation of the year at Sails Resort in Port Macquarie yesterday as five guide dogs – York, Yetta, Spotto, Yorric and Zack – were presented with their first harnesses in readiness to help their new owners.
The special Guide Dog NSW/ACT ceremony was the first of its kind on the mid north coast.
The celebration marks the conclusion of intensive training for the life-changing animals that will soon be matched with a person who is blind or has sight loss.
When they are matched, Guide Dogs NSW spend several weeks working closely with the person and their new life-long friend to ensure they form a strong bond of trust.
Before undergoing intensive training at the Guide Dogs Centre, each guide dog is cared for by volunteer puppy raisers from eight weeks of age until they are 14 months old.
Those who attended the special presentation saw a demonstration of the dogs' skills and enjoyed a puppy pre-school session with a new litter of labrador puppies destined to become guides themselves.
Guide Dog handler Angela Allen, who has only two per cent vision and is a motivational speaker for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, spoke about the positive impact her guide dog Piper has made in her life.
"I have had Piper for two years. She is such a big help and for me it gives me a sense of freedom," she said.
"I was able to get here all by myself. That is independence thanks to my guide dog and to Guide Dogs NSW/ACT."
Eddie Sullivan, guide dog training manager for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, said there is a lot of work across all levels - from birth onwards - to ensure a person is paired with the best companion possible.
"There is a lot of work in the breeding, puppy raising, training and client training of the dogs. There is a big team behind the scenes. It's a huge and costly operation," he said.
"We look to graduate around 50 guide dogs a year and have over 200 puppies on the puppy raising scheme who will come into training in the next 12 months.”
He said there is always a waiting list, whether it is for a guide dog or a support dog. There is about a six month wait for a guide dog.
Mr Sullivan oversees a group of eight guide dog trainers and praised not only his team but all involved in the operation of raising and training a guide dog.