Category Archives: Guide Dogs

A black and white photograph of puppy walkers, including Mark Leishman, and guide dogs in training, walking in a Champ Dogathon.

The first Guide Dog Centre in New Zealand was opened in a small premise in South Auckland in 1973. Prior to that guide dogs were brought in from abroad to help those who required their services.

From its initiation in 1973 to 1997 over 148 blind or low vison New Zealanders were provided with guide dogs.

In 1990 the current Guide Dog Centre was opened by Te Paea Paro Muru (Sophie Muru), the Maori Princess. At the time the centre was considered to be state of the art as far as kennels worldwide were concerned.

In the early 1990s Blind Foundation Guide Dogs became International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) accredited, with the latest accreditation being secured in 2016.

The first annual Guide Dog Appeal, which grew out of International Guide Dog Day, was held in April 1996. In 2007 the Guide Dog Appeal had a name change and became the Red Puppy Appeal.

In 2008 a new purpose-built breeding centre was completed in 2008. The breeding centre includes CCTV-monitored whelping rooms, under-floor heating, vet room, tour room and accessible doggie-bathroom for our expectant and new mums. The facility means the staff at Guide Dogs can better focus on breeding dogs of high quality with the potential of becoming a working guide dog.

Blind Foundation Guide Dogs National Manager Paul Metcalf, who was first elected to the board of the IGDF in 2012 (taking up the position of Vice Chair in 2014), was re-elected in 2016 and became Chair. This is the first time New Zealand has had a representative on the board, and this has helped cement Blind Foundation Guide Dogs’ place in the international arena.

Today we currently have 57 full and part-time staff and over 200 working guide dog teams. We have approximately 350 volunteers, which include our puppy walkers, boarders and breeding stock guardians, and on-site volunteers.

Catch the summer edition of Outlook magazine on 27 March for a more detailed history of Guide Dogs accompanied with some great photos thanks to Blind Foundation Archives.

Guide dog puppy in training Brooke in her red coat

  • We mainly breed Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and purpose-bred first crosses. Known for their intelligence and steady, friendly nature, these breeds make excellent guide dogs.
  • We also breed a small number of German Shepherds & Standard Poodles. The interesting thing about Standard Poodles is they may be used in a home where someone is allergic to dog hair.
  • Each litter is named after a letter from the alphabet and each litter follows in alphabetical order.
  • It takes about 18-20 months to train a guide dog from birth. At nine weeks each puppy is placed with a wonderful volunteer puppy walker.  Their role is to help the pup develop confidence and introduces them to situations they might face as a guide dog. After around 12 months they return to the guide dog centre for six months of intensive training and assessment.
  • Guide dogs can go to most public places, including restaurants, offices, clinics, hospitals, shops, cinemas & hotels.  They can also travel on public transport – including buses, planes, ferries, ships, trains, taxis and shuttles.
  • There are some places a guide dog can’t go; these include some animal enclosures at zoos and hospital departments such as burns units, oncology and intensive care wards.
  • Our puppies on the puppy development programme, our dogs in training and our breeding stock and pups in the breeding centre eat up to three tonnes of premium dog food per month!
  • We operate every day of every year as our dogs and pups need constant care and attention.
  • Guide dogs at different stages wear different coats and equipment. Guide dog puppies in training, stud dogs and brood bitches are often identified by their red coat. Working guide dogs can be recognized by their harnesses and golden medallions.  All of our Handlers also carry an official ‘passport’.
  • Once a dog retires, they enjoy a leisurely life.  Often, that’s with the people who have played an important part in the dog’s life such as the handler or Puppy Walker.  Sometimes they go to a new family.
Image shows the happy human and canine participants ready to take on the Tarawera trail.

In December, 10 courageous Blind Foundation clients, one volunteer, three Blind Foundation staff, and superstar guide dogs Dendi, took on the challenge of hiking through some of the best bush tracks New Zealand has to offer.

This was the first time a guide dog had been taken on the Tarawera Trail much to the delight of the staff at Totally Tarawea.

Dendi was an amazing support through all different terrains. They were a big part of the team and created awareness for everyone else around.

Dendi joined participants as they tramped 11.5km through The Redwoods-Whakarewarewa Forrest, 15.5kms on the Tarawera Trail and as they went, they discovered some of the town’s famous geothermal activity.

Recreation and community advisor, Latesha Sharp, on behalf of all participants would like to thank Totally Tarawera staff who played a big role in the success of the tramp.  Their team really enhanced the experience through all their support on the journey getting everyone to the start of the walk. They provided a fantastic history talk about the area, as well as transport via a water taxi ride to the trails and helped with access on and off the boat.

The tramp gave all participants a sense of achievement, everyone who participated was pushed to their physical limits and had a thoroughly good time doing it.

• Never let fireworks off close to animals.

• If you are a pet owner and don’t need to go to a Guy Fawkes party, think about staying home to reassure and comfort your pets.

• Alternatively, find a reliable person who will stay with your pets and look after them in their familiar surroundings, or take them to the home of someone you know who will look after them and be there to reassure them when the fireworks start.

• Make sure your pets are indoors throughout the evening and that they can’t see or hear the fireworks.

• Exterior doors and windows should be secured to prevent your pets escaping and running away in terror.

• Interior doors and curtains/blinds should be closed as this will help muffle the sound of fireworks and prevent your pets being startled by the lights.

• It is a good idea to switch on the radio, television or stereo to distract your pets from the sound of fireworks. If there is no human present to look after the animals, it is even more important to leave the radio or television on for them.

• If a frightened animal hides under furniture or in a cupboard, don’t try to coax it out, you will only be adding to its distress. Allow the animal to hide and speak reassuringly, allowing it to come out in its own time.

• Make sure your dog or cat has a collar on with up to date contact details (or better yet, get your pet microchipped) just in case they get out and are panicked by the fireworks.

• If you have small pets that live outdoors, don’t forget to partly cover cages/pens and aviaries with blankets so that one area is well sound proofed. Also provide lots of extra bedding so your pet has something to burrow in.

• If you have a particularly nervous animal with a known heart condition, speak to your veterinarian before Guy Fawkes night over whether calming medication would be suitable.

• You may also wish to put your animal in a reputable boarding complex over the Guy Fawkes weekend. Some facilities have regular bookings each year for animals who hate fireworks.

• People organising fireworks displays should let their neighbours know in advance. Put flyers in neighbour’s letter boxes. This will alert them to the need to make arrangements for their pets.

• Organisers of large fireworks displays should also place notices in local shop windows and inform local media.

• Firework party organisers should concentrate on fireworks which explode close to the ground and don’t make particularly loud bangs or screeches. These are likely to cause less distress to animals.

Photo of Parveen working at Guide Dogs reception.

On Fridays Blind Foundation client Parveen Shankar lends a helping hand at Guide Dogs.

Parveen has been volunteering at Guide Dogs for over a year. He works in the reception area and helps the team with general office duties.

“I answer phone queries, print reports, count pages and make folders. They show me how to carry out these tasks which is great training for me,” he says.

Part of the work involves putting together the puppy packs that go to our puppy walkers. The pack includes a bowl, lead, worm and flea tablets and a dog brush.

“It’s such a good experience; I’m learning new things and meeting new people every day. I enjoy seeing people come in with guide dogs, talking to them and giving the dogs a pat!”

Parveen says he hopes the experience from volunteering at the Blind Foundation will also help him with employment.

The Guide Dogs team appreciate having Parveen on board, Sheryl Davis, Guide Dogs Service Administration Manager says:

“Parveen assists callers and visitors to the Centre, along with many other tasks that support the work of the wider Admin team and, therefore, the Guide Dog service as a whole – he is a very reliable member of our team.”

Parveen also supports the Blind Foundation by collecting for our appeals. This year Parveen collected for the Red Puppy Appeal.

“It’s good to go out and collect for the puppies. Without the funding we can’t train the guide dogs,” says Parveen.

Client and guide dog

We often get asked questions from people wanting facts about guide dogs. Here are top ten facts:

1.    Our puppies on the puppy development programme, our dogs in training and our breeding stock and pups in the breeding centre eat up to three tonnes of premium dog food per month!

2.    We have a staff member dedicated to finding new homes for those dogs that aren’t suited to guiding work. This is sometimes with another service or as a pet in a home where the family will care for them and give them a happy life.

3.    The first guide dog was established in Germany in Oldenberg by Dr Gerhard Stalling in August 1916. This was to help guide service men blinded in WW1.

4.    Our puppies are normal puppies and do normal naughty puppy things – they aren’t miniature guide dogs.

5.    The puppies live inside the home as a member of the family.

6.    They have plenty of ‘play’ time when they aren’t out in their red coats

7.    Guide dogs are not robots, they can make mistakes!

8.    We operate every day of every year as our dogs and pups need constant care and attention. Over the Christmas holidays we had 29 baby puppies in the guide dog centre with staff caring for them seven days per week.

9.    Each litter is named after a letter from the alphabet and in alphabetical order.

10. Their red coat (and ID medallion) mean that they have legal access to all public places.

Denise with her bird Rikki the MacawPhoto of Denise with her bird Rikki the Macaw

Meet Denise Ireland, Guide Dog Development Manager from Guide Dogs.

Denise manages the Guide Dog Development team, which includes people and dogs. Their goal is to ensure that the puppies have every chance of success to go on to become guide dogs.

“The Guide Dog Development team receives puppies from nine weeks of age and they stay with us till they are around 20 months old. At which time they qualify as a safe and efficient guide and are matched to their client,” says Denise.

A teaching element is another part of her role, of both staff and dogs, which makes it varied and challenging. They go to different locations around Auckland to assess and train guide dogs.

Denise has been working at the Blind Foundation since 1992. When asked what her highlights were, she says she doesn’t know where to begin!

One highlight Denise recalls was a few years ago, when a guide dog in training was unresponsive to her cadet trainer.

“This was something new for the cadet and she felt like she had done something wrong. She decided to take the dog into her home and played lots of interactive toy games until she found a game that it liked. The cadet worked hard to build up a relationship with the dog, and I could see the dog’s ability to train improve.”

In the end Denise says that the dog’s attitude to her work was one of the best she’d seen.

“To watch them both grow was very rewarding. Better still the dog went on to work with a new applicant in the South Island, and the client is always talking about how this four legged girl has changed his life for the better!”

Outside of work you can find Denise in her lifestyle block with her husband and two boys, birds, sheep, goats, cats, chickens, ducks and a lizard!

Photo of Liz and guide dog puppy Rae

When Liz Wright saw her first guide dog she knew that one day she’d become a puppy walker.

“It all started in the 80s when I was working as a nurse. I met a woman who had a guide dog called Honey. I decided I would be a puppy walker once I retired. When my husband Gerry retired that was exactly what we did!” Says Liz.

“It really grew from there, I became addicted!”

Thirteen years and eight puppies later, Liz is now puppy walking 16 month old guide dog puppy Rae.

Liz and Gerry have had Rae since she was eight weeks old. “It is the best thing I’ve ever done as a volunteer, by a country mile! It is one the most rewarding things I’ve done. I love dogs and seeing them working lets you see another side of them.”

“What makes it all worth it is seeing them progress, especially the ones who’ve had behavior issues. It’s also neat to hear from a dog’s new handler and them telling us what a difference it’s made.”

Paula Gemmell, Puppy Development Coordinator says that Liz and Gerry are just star volunteers.

“They have been amazing volunteers for many years. What is wonderful about Liz is her continued thirst for knowledge and how she puts all this knowledge into practice with whatever puppy or dog she has at the moment. The dogs she works with always return to us with a high level of obedience and an ease of manageability. She is a valued member of our team!”


Eilish and guide dog Loie

Eilish Wilkes never dreamed she would have her own freedom and independence until guide dog Loie came along.

Last August Loie became Eilish’s first guide dog, and in those seven months the pair have developed an amazing partnership.

“It feels like we’ve been together for so much longer, Loie and I are very rarely apart,” she says.

Loie has become her constant companion and changed the way Eilish, 19, gets on with her day to day tasks.

“She is a point of conversation everywhere I go; it has opened a lot of doors for me.”

“I had limited independence and mobility, I was unable to go anywhere without a sighted person. I felt very isolated and was confined to my home.”

Everyday they walk to different locations together, sometimes travelling on the bus or ferry.

Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Colin Christie worked with the pair and is pleased to see their partnership develop.

“Eilish is an enthusiastic handler who put in a lot of effort to improve her mobility. It was fantastic to witness the improvement in Eilish’s confidence and now there is no stopping her. It was a pleasure playing a small part within a big team at the Blind Foundation to help make this possible for Eilish and her family.”

Eilish is looking forward to having Loie by her side as she starts her first year at Massey University.

“I am undertaking a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in English and a minor in rehabilitation studies,” says Eilish.

“Loie will give me the opportunity to independently get to and from university via public transport. She will help me to navigate my way around the university campus as well.”

“I can’t imagine my life without Loie. I am so grateful to all the people who made it possible for her to become my very first guide dog and my best friend.”

a guide dog puppy with a laptop

Welcome to the new-look Blind Foundation website!  We hope you enjoy your time on here, and can quickly and easily find the information you’re after.

If you’re used to seeing the old site, this will look and feel really different.  To help you find your way around, here are a few hints and tips:

Easy Navigation – there’s one series of navigation (or information) tabs – so you can find what you want without being distracted by lots of different information.  Each time you click on a navigation heading, the next layer of information appears, until you get to what you want.   You also have breadcrumbs at the top of the page to help show you where you are.

Search that Works –  the new search function is slick.  Your top ten options will come up with short descriptors – and we’re confident they’ll have what you’re looking for first go.

Events – events are now one click away from the home page, and in one section. You can search for a particular type of event or can browse events in your region.

News –  just like events, all news is now in one section.  You can search for particular news items you want to read about using the Topics filter.

Shop – the new look shop is big and bold, with clear navigation options and easy processes.  You should be able to find what they want easily, get all of the information you need about any product in one go, and make your purchase easily.

Accessible – Following WCAG guidelines, the site was created with accessibility as a priority.  The functionality and design were tested with different blind and low vision users, so you should find that the site is easy to use.

Take a look around.  We’d love to hear any feedback – simply get in touch on