Guide dog owners and fosterers: Hilary Lester with Portia, Carole Morgan with Jason Dogovan, Steve Sims with Souly, and Sue Sims with Saxon. Credit: Derry Salter.
Guide dog owners and fosterers: Hilary Lester with Portia, Carole Morgan with Jason Dogovan, Steve Sims with Souly, and Sue Sims with Saxon. Credit: Derry Salter.

‘My eyes, my friend’: Woman who lost guide dog to cancer calls for puppy fostering help

‘Without Guide Dogs Cymru, I wouldn’t have a dog and go the places I do’

GUIDANCE, companionship and support are just a few things guide dogs give to their owners.

Hilary Lester has been a guide dog owner since 2010 and lost her previous dog to cancer just four years ago.

She said: “I had to wait one year without a dog. It makes a huge difference.

“Just one year without and I totally understand why I personally need a guide dog. My new dog Portia is my eyes and she is my friend.”

The charity Guide Dogs Cymru provide dogs for those in Wales that are blind or are partially-sighted.

The centre in St Mellons has increased its target number of guide dogs to train to keep up with demand and are encouraging people to foster a puppy.

Steve Sims is a current fosterer for Guide Dogs Cymru. He said: “I find it really rewarding. We take the dogs out and about and let them settle in and enjoy their puppyhood.

“When they move back to the training centre, we miss them and they miss us but I know they settle quickly and are ready to change lives.”

Before dogs can be trained, they need to have a temporary home. The dogs train during the day whilst at their foster home, leaving the fosterers free to hold full-time jobs.

The charity also pays for the dogs’ food and veterinary bills as well as travel costs.

“As a fosterer, you take your dog out to socialise with others and to any shops, cafes and restaurants that will take them,” said Mr Sims.

“It is not a legal requirement for shops to let trainee guide dogs enter so we try and take them anywhere we can. Even if it is only on the bus or on the train.”

Hilary Lester and her guide dog Portia. Credit: Derry Salter.
Steve Sims and his guide dog Souly. Credit: Derry Salter.

When the dogs are 14 months old, they move from their foster home back to the training centre.

Sarah Fullstone is one of the people who helps the dogs settle in to their new roles.

She said: “Some dogs do struggle leaving their foster family but we provide lots of comfort and toys from their foster family. Keeping a routine is essential and the training classes help with that.”

As a trainer, Ms Fullstone helps to prepare the dog for their forever home.

She said: “Once a dog is matched up with an owner, I then help the new owner train for five weeks with their dog to know they are well-suited and familiar. We keep in contact with all owners to make sure things are running smoothly.

“It is such a rewarding job and it is great to know that you are making a difference in someone’s life.”

Share the Love and help Guide Dogs UK make a difference

The charity helped partner 385 owners with a guide dog in 2021 alone and continue to support 4,044 ongoing partnerships.

Guide Dogs Cymru hosted a ‘Share the love with guide dogs’ event for shoppers to learn more about the charity’s life-changing work.

Guide dog Portia and friends were at St David’s on February 10 and will return on February 13 and 14 to offer shoppers the chance to ‘Pat and Chat’ and learn more about fostering a guide dog.

Jaye Connelly, volunteer coordinator, said: “We’re hoping the excitement of Valentine’s Day will encourage dog lovers to open their hearts and support Guide Dogs.

“We wouldn’t be able to keep our guide dog service running without the support of our volunteer fosterers, so we hope more people will fall in love with this unique opportunity.”

At the St Mellons training centre, there are 12 puppies waiting to be fostered.

Across the UK there are 18 local training centres and six regional centres. To become a volunteer at one of these centres or foster a guide dog, visit Guide Dogs UK.