Tony Sarre’s life changed for the better even before he was paired with his new Seeing Eye Dog.
Simply training to work with Seeing Eye Dog Papio helped him to re-engage with the world a decade after retinal degeneration robbed him of his sight.
Tony, 49, from Perth, says he and Papio have been working together for a few weeks.
“We’re in the very early stages, so from a mobility point of view, there’s a long way to go, but from a social and emotional point of view, it’s a very different kettle of fish already,” Tony says.
Tony has always been short-sighted and, even as his vision deteriorated towards legal blindness he worked as a documentary film-maker and travelled extensively.
“Then, I lost my eyesight 10 years ago, and then I hid away after that. Between that and some hearing loss that I didn’t know I had, I essentially never left the house,” he says.
“I’m married, but in my head I’ve been quite alone for a long time.”
At the suggestion of his wife Sue, Tony sought a Seeing Eye Dog last year and without realising the full impact of that decision, ushered in a new lifestyle.
“The process of preparing myself for a Seeing Eye Dog is the biggest change that’s happened,” Tony says.
“I had to step outside my boundaries. I had to learn to use a white cane. I needed orientation skills to prepare for having a dog. You’ve got to know where you’re going and how to get from point A to point B to point your dog in the right direction.
“That got me out of my house. I went from doing nothing to walking for an hour every day. I’ve been getting out a lot more, getting back into some studying and film-making, and it all stems from the desire to have a dog.”
Now, as his mobility training continues with Seeing Eye Dogs trainer Greer Gerson, he has a friend to share the ride – Papio, or Paddy as Tony has nicknamed him.
“I still have a lot of training and mobility time over the next three or four months, and I suspect that is going to be a very busy time for me and the boy (Papio),” Tony says.
“I don’t just want to go around in my local area. I want to go to the city, and to my sister’s house, and to my mother’s house, and Greer and I are planning how I can get to all these destinations. My aim is not to be restricted to a few set routes, but to have the confidence and competence to do that.
“She says I can do that, and I believe her.”