Wednesday, 26 April 2023
International Guide Dog Day
Rod and I are delighted again to welcome you to the Government House grounds to celebrate International Guide Dog Day.
As your CEO Aaron Chia said in his letter of invitation to me: there is no higher calling for a dog than to empower someone living with disability to achieve independence, participation, inclusion and wellbeing in their lives.
Rod and I whole heartedly concur.
Like many people, we have long admired the skill, intelligence and loyalty of these wonderful dogs from afar as well as from our interactions with your organisation.
Yet, the enduring bond of trust between a handler and their Guide Dog was not fully understood by us until we had the privilege of undertaking a blindfolded walk with a dog.
Holding the harness became a leap of faith which was daunting to start with, but we soon felt the rhythm and gait of the dogs – or perhaps it was the other way round - and we trusted that because of their exacting training they would lead us well.
We became a team and gained a deeper understanding of how much these dogs can change lives.
In that regard, Rod and I thank those who enable people who are blind or have vision loss, autism or anxiety to become independent and break down the barriers of isolation.
On International Guide Dog Day, we pay tribute to the 33 dogs currently partnered with people living with low vision, blindness and other specialised needs.
We also congratulate the seven handlers who were matched with their dogs over the past 12 months.
Also let us remember and thank the nine dogs that are retiring and one no longer with us. Their loyalty, companionship and service has been steadfast.
Since we last met, we also remember the sad passing of Judith Beauchamp in April last year, who alongside her husband the late Frank Beauchamp, your inaugural president, contributed to the Adelaide and Unley Apex Groups’ founding of Guide Dogs here in South Australia.
This pioneering work remains an enduring legacy.
I congratulate Guide Dogs SA/NT for being a leader in its field; being the first provider of guide dogs in South Australia and pioneering the provision of Autism Assistance Dogs.
Of course, you are more than dogs. Your work in other mobility services also enables independence.
I commend your initiatives in making the recent Fringe Festival more accessible by providing Human Guide training to event staff and volunteers, as well providing training to the SAPOL Road Safety School and the Adelaide Metro Rail Network for 215 people to be able to confidently and safely guide people with low vision or blindness.
Because living with disability should not be a barrier to participation. Because independence is a fundamental human right, ensuring dignity and confidence.
I encourage everyone in our community to think about how our individual actions can ensure inclusion.
The national campaign coinciding with International Guide Dog Day, reminds us to “Talk to the Handler” and engage with the handler first so that working dogs can undertake their exacting tasks.
Through digital channels, handlers are raising issues that are important to them and we can gain an insight into their needs.
I know that Guide Dogs are impossibly cute, as we can see from those here today, but it’s worth reminding the public that proper dog etiquette is not only polite, it ensures the safety of the handler and the dog.
Our own dog, Alfie, is upstairs in the house to make sure he doesn’t distract the dogs today; although I am sure he would have loved to have greeted them all.
The journey of an energetic puppy to become a calm, alert, intelligent guide dog takes commitment from everyone here today: the trainers, puppy raisers, volunteers, fundraisers and supporters.
Thank you for helping to make that happen. Your role is important, and I know is appreciated and will ensure the service will endure long beyond its current 65 years in South Australia.
Rod and I, together with our family and Alfie, wish you all a very happy International Guide Dog Day.