Go Walkies in aid of guide dogs

A YOUNG lady named Angie acted as my walking companion's 'eyes' as we made our way along the prom last month.

Angie is a Labrador-Retriever cross. More significantly, she is a newly-trained and qualified guide dog.

Elsewhere, four other guide dogs were leading visually-impaired owners.

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They were the symbolic vanguard for a total of 41 registered walkers and their companions.

Every other year, Bexhill, Hastings and Rother West branch of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association stages its sponsored walk. The four-mile event – from the foot of Galley Hill along De La Warr Parade, Central Parade and new-look West Parade and back – is one of the branch’s most important fund-raising events.

Bernie Clark, of St Leonards, lost his sight five years ago after a heart attack and stroke.

Angie took up her duties five months ago, transforming Bernie’s life, restoring his independence and mobility.

She leads him down to his local Coop to do his shopping. Indeed, she won’t let him past the store even if he doesn’t need to shop!

“I’ve lost a stone in weight since I got her,” says Bernie, delighted to feel fitter for the walks he and Angie enjoy together.

Sunday’s sponsored walk was “new territory” for man and dog. Bernie used to live in the village of Bells Yew Green before moving to a home for the blind in St Leonards. The four-miler was also their longest walk together.

Steve Pratt was a joiner before losing his sight at the age of 24. Now that he has a guide dog, the former joiner has adapted a cycle trailer to fit a harness on his back-pack so son Connar, four, can be towed behind the pair on walks.

Steve’s dog has helped him build a new life he would not have thought possible after losing his sight.

Nationally, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has coined the slogan Go Walkies for such fundraising events.

Guide dog owners and pet owners alike were encouraged to take part. But not having a dog did not preclude helping to raise funds.

Some people walked alone. Others in pairs. Whole families took part.

Walkers had waited patiently in a cold westerly wind and under lowering clouds for everyone to go through registration at the Sea Angling Club building before the mass start. But the wind abated by the half-way point at the far end of West Parade and a patch of blue sky made an appearance as the walkers completed the course.

But best news of all was that the event is likely to raise more than £2,000.