TRAINING a Guide Dog puppy in its first months of life involves a lot of skill.
Retired Braidwood woman Ann Hamilton was uniquely qualified to take on that task - because she had never had a dog in her life before.
The complete lack of previous experience was not a drawback - because she was able to teach the puppy its basic training the Guide Dog way.
“They said it was quite easy,” said Ann, thinking back to her first puppy.
“It was a learning curve.”
Ann (65) is an official Puppy Walker, now training her sixth puppy, a 5½-month-old Labrador called Craig.
She is one of only eight in South Lanarkshire, who receive puppies when they are around seven weeks old, and take them through their basic training before sending them on to Forfar at just over a year old, for intensive Guide Dog training.
Some of her “former pupils” are now fully qualified Guide Dogs, and portraits of them all look down from the walls of her kitchen.
Ann and husband Bobby became involved six years ago quite by chance.
“We met a blind man at Ayr Flower Show and he talked us into it!” said Ann, who worked as a receptionist for decades.
And she is not devastated when it comes time to hand back the puppy.
“I never had a dog in my life and I wasn’t doing it to have a puppy,” she said. “I was doing it to help someone less fortunate.
“And it is very worthwhile.”
In addition to housetraining and teaching the dog to sit and stay, it is Ann’s job to accustom the puppy to going into places everyone, sighted or blind, goes.
“We have to take them on buses and trains, in and out of shops and restaurants and toilets,” she said.
“This morning I was at the dentist and Craig was at the dentist.”
Bobby had a hospital appointment and the dog went there too.
“Now, if we don’t take him, people are asking ‘where’s the puppy?’,” said Ann.
“He goes to the chiropodist, to La Piazza and the Station Inn, and we were at a show in the Memorial Hall and he was there.”
Their home is beside the railway, and her puppies are all used to the noise of trains, but she has a photo of one of her puppies walking behind army tanks and a pipe band!
She and Bobby meet up with other walkers at Chatelherault once a month, training their puppies round traffic cones - to simulate legs - and even through tunnels, and on occasion as many as eight puppies are welcomed into the cafe there afterwards!
Guide Dogs is currently recruiting Puppy Walkers, and Ann would encourage anyone interested to get involved.
The charity provides all the dog food, leads, and even a railcard!
“Give it a try!” Ann urged. “It doesn’t cost you anything other than your time, and it is very worthwhile.”
For more information visit www.guidedogs.org.uk