Our puppy will be a guiding Star

SHE'S going to be a real Star - not just by name but in the work she will do.

Richard Cornwell

SHE'S going to be a real Star - not just by name but in the work she will do.

Evening Star Felixstowe editor RICHARD CORNWELL went along to meet the guide dog pup we are raising £10,000 to support.

CUTE and cuddly, and everyone who meets her just falls in love with her.

Adorable Star seems to be followed by a constant stream of ooohs and aahs and cries of “Isn't she lovely!” with people just wanting to pet and coo over her.

But, of course, the pale pint-sized pup will soon grow - and when she does her life will be very different to other dogs.

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For Star is set to become a guide dog, a demanding and disciplined role in which she will become the eyes for someone who cannot see.

She will be trained to lead her owner through busy town centres, noisy crowds, across roads, on and off public transport, in and out of buildings - anywhere that person might need to go - and to take them there safely.

The training is rigorous - it has to be - and not all the young dogs make the grade.

For the majority that do, the introduction to their new owner marks the start of a partnership that will last around seven years.

Star is on the first leg of that journey.

Just seven weeks old, the pup has left her mum and is settling in with puppy walker Penny Parker at her home in Western Avenue, Old Felixstowe, getting acclimatised to a wide range of situations.

Volunteer puppy walkers introduce the young pups to the sights, sounds and smells of a world in which they will play such an important part.

This will mean Penny taking Star on buses and trains, into shops and along busy streets.

She will teach her to walk ahead on the leash - not “to heel” - as she will once a guide dog, and to obey simple commands such as “sit”, “down”, “stay” and “come”.

Penny said: “I will expose her to as many different situations as possible - a whole range of experiences.

“She will come with me to work every day, shopping, into schools, and to my weekly Brownie pack.

“We will go on buses, trains, the underground, in crowds, supermarkets - just about any situation you can think of to get her used to different sights and sounds.

“Because she is a trainee guide dog and not yet working with a blind person, there are some places we are not allowed to take her but most people are very helpful and do give us permission because she needs to experience things before she goes to a blind or sight impaired person.”

Penny has a plan of how Star will progress and she will liaise closely with her puppy walking supervisor.

Although she has already been out and about a bit in the area - meeting schoolchildren, brownies and staff at the Co-op supermarket in Hamilton Road - the first days are for bonding with Penny.

Star also has a new friend - Umber, who was himself a trainee guide dog a couple of years ago.

Umber was the first of the four dogs Penny has puppy walked, but when it came to his formal training, two-and-a-half year old Umber didn't take to it and has come back to live with Penny.

She said: “He is a lovely dog and although being a guide dog was not for him - 25 per cent don't make it - he has the basics and will teach Star quite a lot, as well as being a playmate for her.”

Suffolk people traditionally have a huge heart for Guide Dogs - the East and Mid Suffolk fundraising group has raised £12,000 in the past year.

- Has your family been helped by the Guide Dogs - tell us your stories about this amazing charity: write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

The aim is to raise £10,000 to help with the cost of Star's training - and we want the whole community to get involved with the appeal.

Every penny and pound will count and ensure that the little puppy get the best care and training as she is prepared to do the job of guiding someone who lives every day of their lives with the blight of blindness.

If you are organising a fundraising event for the appeal, then we want to hear so we can give it maximum publicity and help boost the amount raised.

So let us know what you are up to - get in touch with Richard Cornwell at the Felixstowe Newsdesk on 01394 284109 or the Ipswich Newsdesk on 01473 324788.

To donate to the appeal, please send cheques - made payable to Guide Dogs - to Richard Cornwell, Evening Star, 172 Hamilton Road, Felixstowe, IP11 7DU.

FASTFACTS: Guide Dogs for the Blind

- The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was founded in Britain in 1934.

- Every year the association breeds more than 1,000 guide dog puppies, mostly Labrador/retriever crosses.

- Some 21,000 blind and partially-sighted people have experienced the independence a guide dog can bring.

- The association needs more than £50 million a year to carry out its work.

- This money comes entirely from voluntary donations - two thirds of it from legacies and the rest from fundraising events.

- The charity is supported by about 10,000 volunteers, including puppy walkers, dog boarders and thousands of local fundraisers.

- Guide dogs generally retire at the age of nine or ten. Many stay with their owner, as a pet.

- There are about 220 guide dog owners in East Anglia.

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