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Monday 2 October 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Conor McCabe Olive Cummins with her dog Eve at the Rock of Cashel.
# World Sight Day
In pics: Our guide dogs changed our lives
“With York as my guide, I take in the sea air, listen to the seagulls and fetch my morning coffee.”

FOR THOSE OF us who have no sight issues, passing a guide dog on the street is a chance to appreciate a cute dog.

But those who live with guide dogs who know the canines are much more than this – they are essential companions who can change lives.

To mark World Sight Day, which takes place today, Irish Guide Dogs has released a series of portraits of people with their guide dogs at landmarks across Ireland.

“On World Sight Day we would like to encourage more people who are vision impaired to apply for our services,” said Padraig Mallon, CEO of Irish Guide Dogs. “We work with people in cities, towns and in the country and each dog is matched to the client depending on their needs.”

There are currently 11,027 people who are registered as blind in Ireland, and all are eligible to apply for a guide dog which is provided by Irish Guide Dogs free of charge. There are currently 184 guide dog partnerships in Ireland.

Lean Kennedy, Access and Education Officer with Irish Guide Dogs and owner of guide dog Roy (named after the charity’s ambassador Roy Keane), says that you don’t have to be a ‘dog person’ to have a guide dog.

You also do not have to be totally blind to have a guide dog, and there is no upper age limit.

Here are people’s stories about how guide dogs changed their lives.

Monica Wims and Guinness in Sligo

Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. Picture Conor McCabe Photography. Conor McCabe Conor McCabe

Monica Wims is a Sligo farmer. Three years ago, while moving a herd of cattle at her Tubercurry farm, a cow kicked out and caught her in the face with his hoof, crushing her eyes. Despite surgery, Monica was left with no vision.

The reality of the trauma took a while to sink in. Once she regained some of her confidence, Monica applied to Irish Guide Dogs and was matched with guide dog Guinness.

He motivates me to get out of the house. We go for a country walk most days.

Donnacha McCarthy at the Spire in Dublin

Donnacha McCarthy the Spire Dublin Conor McCabe Conor McCabe

Donnacha McCarthy is in his 20s and suffered a rapid loss of sight at age 10 following a battle with leukaemia, leaving him in “total darkness” within a matter of weeks.

Originally from Cork, he lives and works in Dublin and is a member of the Blind Football Ireland squad.

He was matched with Holly in 2008, and says his life has been transformed.

She allows me to do what I want with total independence, be that going to work every day, going to the gym or something as simple as going for a walk. I can safely say she has been the best aid I’ve had since losing my sight.

Cara Gibbons and Uri on Shop St, Galway

Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. Picture Conor McCabe Photography. Conor McCabe Conor McCabe

I always knew I would get a Guide Dog. Now I finally have, life is so much better.

An allergic reaction to cough medicine at the age of nine left Cara Gibbons fighting for her life and dealing with blindness. She had a sudden onset of a rare condition called Stevens-Johnsons Syndrome, which caused her mucus membranes to burn from the inside out.

Irish Guide Dogs explained:

Her entire skin was burned from head to toe and left her with scar tissue in her left eye. She spent months recovering in hospital and at home in order to heal her skin and rebuild her immune system.

At the age of 17, she discovered she had developed glaucoma as well, and after an unsuccessful operation, she learned she would be blind within a year.

Her vision gradually became foggier until one morning she looked up to the bright colours on her wall she used as a guide and realised her sight had finally gone.

Cara trained with her guide dog Uri in 2013 and says that for the first time in years she has been able to go out by herself.

Cara has just completed a master’s degree in Health Psychology and taken on new challenges such as tandem cycling.

Joe Bollard and York pictured at Glendalough, Co Wicklow

Picture Conor McCabe Photography. Conor McCabe Conor McCabe

Joe Bollard has been blind for the last 77 years and used to rely on others to help him get around.

Despite being a talented piano player and touring around Ireland and America, until 1975 he had never been out by himself. But his first guide dog, Adam, changed everything.

“Before I got a guide dog, life was OK. I was totally dependent on others. Now life is incredible. I enjoy nothing more than leaving the house first thing every day and strolling down to Bray harbour.”

York is his fifth guide dog:

“With York as my guide, I take in the sea air, listen to the seagulls and fetch my morning coffee.”

Olive Cummins and Eve at the Rock of Cashel, Tipperary

Picture Conor McCabe Photography. Conor McCabe Olive Cummins with her dog Eve at the Rock of Cashel. Conor McCabe

Olive Cummins, from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, began losing her vision six years ago due to Age Related Macular Degeneration.

She spent years as an active volunteer in the non-profit sector, but said it was difficult adapting to life with significant vision loss.

She decided to get a guide dog after her family spotted a young gentleman weaving through the crowded streets of Dublin with the help of his guide dog.

Olive trained with Eve in 2012.

“Before Eve, I did not have a life. I was completely reliant on family and friends to get out and about. I nickname Eve the Ferrari as now I am speedily getting around town with her help. Eva has given me my life back.”

Paraic Barnes 

Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. Picture Conor McCabe Photography. Conor McCabe Conor McCabe

Moving from a long cane to a Guide Dog was like changing from a scooter to a motorbike.

One morning in January 2011, Paraic Barnes, a school inspector, woke up with a big ink blot obscuring his vision. He walked his daughter to school but suspected retinal detachment in his left eye, as he had already suffered this in his right eye 12 years earlier.

“I tried to burn the image into my mind, I knew it could be the last time I saw her face.”

This was confirmed and he spent the next six months undergoing extensive eye surgery.

In June 2011 he was left with total sight loss.

His family brought humour to the situation, like playing pranks such as swapping his potatoes with lemons at dinner time.

Paraic, who travels around the country due to his job, has a positive attitude but his guide dog Ozzy has really helped his independence.

Read: Could you manage to eat your dinner while wearing a blindfold?

Read: Could you give a puppy a loving home for a year before it becomes a guide dog?>

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