Blind DJ finding life with new guide dog Wanda-ful
GRAFTON radio personality Phil "PK" Kennedy has a new best friend, his golden Labrador guide dog Wanda.
Mr Kennedy, who has spent most of his life legally blind, was finding it a struggle to get around the Grafton streets.
"When I was at school I was diagnosed with optic nerve atrophy, and really my vision was not much better than it is now," he said.
"I was able to make out objects well enough to get around with a cane, but my vision was never going to improve.
"Over the last two years or so I noticed it was becoming harder to cross streets and judge traffic, which was having an impact on my mobility and my safety."
Mr Kennedy said frustration with his lack of mobility was affecting on his quality of life.
"I found that using a cane really put me on edge, just because I was constantly bumping into things and other people," he said.
"I was withdrawing from things I enjoyed, like going out for a cup of coffee, but since I've had Wanda, I've been getting out and about much more."
Mr Kennedy said he began training with Wanda in early November for two weeks at Penrith, learning his basic skills.
"After that was over we came back home for another two weeks of training with guide dog trainer Matt Woods," he said.
Mr Kennedy said the training involved reinforcing the basic commands and teaching Wanda the routes he used to his main destinations for work, shopping and recreation.
"She needs to become familiar with the routes where I go around town initially," he said.
"Over time she will eventually be able to handle trips to places like Brisbane and the Gold Coast, but she will also have to learn the new routes we use when we get there."
Mr Kennedy said Wanda was a beautiful, friendly dog, but it was paramount people did not distract her while she was working.
"People might want to pat her and give her food, but that's a real no-no," he said.
"She looks cute and friendly, but people need to know while she's in her harness she's working and should be left to do her job."
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT regional manager, Jeremy Hill, said that all Guide Dog programs are tailored to meet the lifestyle needs of each individual, and most training is undertaken locally, in the person's home, community or work environment.
"Our instructors travel to wherever our services are required," Mr Hill said.
"We come to you, wherever that may be - your home, your workplace, your school or university - helping you learn to find your way around your particular environment is a top priority."
With the festive season just around the corner, Phil is looking forward to spending his first Christmas with Wanda.
"I'm not sure what I'll get her yet, but I have a feeling there will be a ball-shaped present under the Christmas tree this year," Phil said.
Like all Guide Dogs, it cost more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train Wanda before she was provided to Phil at no cost.
"With growing numbers of people having trouble getting around as a result of vision loss, the demand for Guide Dogs services is ever increasing," he said.
"As we receive less than three per cent of our funding from the government, we rely on the public's generosity to fund our services, which are all provided at no cost to those who need them."
For more information about Guide Dogs free, local services visit www.guidedogs.com.au or call the Guide Dogs office in Coffs Harbour on (02) 6691 8500.