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Urgent appeal for guide dog volunteers

An urgent appeal has been launched to recruit more volunteers to help fund the training of new guide dogs in Wrexham and Flintshire.

Representatives of Guide Dogs Cymru will be at the Eagles Meadow shopping centre on July 23 to raise money and raise awareness about the importance of the service they provide.

The location is particularly appropriate because the shopping centre is also used as a training venue for new guide dogs.

Heather Woroska, 21, of Penycae, who gets around with the help of her four-year-old guide dog Una , is taking over the running of the organisation's Wrexham branch.

She suffers from two conditions, Oculocutaneous Albinism and Nystagmus, that have left her with no central vision and extremely limited and very blurred peripheral vision.

Heather will be there with Mike Webster of Pentre Halkyn, who is also registered blind and relies on five-year-old Labrador-retriever cross, Rocky,

Mike, who has a glass left eye and is very long sighted in the other can’t distinguish depth and struggles more in some light condition, currently runs both the Flintshire and Wrexham branches of Guide Dogs Cymru which is proving difficult.

He is currently training Heather so she can take over the reins ahead of their joint collection day on July 23.

He said: “I’m delighted Heather is learning the ropes and will take over the Wrexham branch before long. We desperately need more volunteers to help us raise funds and support the work we do.

“It’s a lot about fundraising and working with venues such as Eagles Meadow shopping centre who allow us to run fundraising events and put up display stands so we can appeal for new volunteers.    

“We’d be lost without our guide dogs. There are 59 guide dog owners in North Wales and when you consider the cost for each dog over its life time, for everything from training to food and vet’s bills, is estimated to be £52,000, you can see why we need to raise all the funds we can.”

Mike, who owns one glass eye with a Welsh flag on it and says when you have a disability you also need a sense of humour, added: “Running a branch of Guide Dogs Cymru is hard work and I wish we could attract more volunteers, particularly those who have direct experience of working with guide dogs.

“I’m also a professional speaker so going into schools and other places to talk about guide dogs holds no fears for me. It’s actually good fun going to schools. You never know what question you will get asked.”  

Heather, who attended mainstream school in Ruabon, has twice done a zip wire challenge to raise much-needed funds for Guide Dogs Cymru, and says having Una means she can go where she wants, when she wants.

She said: “Una, a Labradoodle, has really boosted my confidence. I’d be lost without her now. I’m looking forward to taking over the Wrexham branch of Guide Dogs Cymru and I do have a few fundraising ideas of my own.

“I’m determined to go to college and learn Welsh so I can talk to schools that have Welsh as their first language, I think that’s important. It might confuse Una for a little while though! She won’t understand instructions in Welsh as she has been trained using English commands.”

“I always enjoy coming to Eagles Meadow, which is something I can do easily with Una. Most of the public are fine but, like most if not all guide dog users, Mike and I have a problem with people wanting to pet and stroke our dogs when they are working.

“I can be waiting to cross a road and someone will come up and, without asking, begin stroking Una. When you ask them not to as she is working very often people will get quite nasty with you.”

She added: “It’s a real problem to be honest. People just don’t understand they are working dogs and not pets. Obviously I love Una to bits but I can’t afford for her to become distracted when she is working and keeping me safe.

“I’m looking forward to the collection day in July here at Eagles Meadow and hope we can find a few new willing volunteers too.”

Eagles Meadow manager Kevin Critchley said: “Our staff, customers and visitors are always generous when it comes to charity giving and I’m sure everyone will support what is a very good cause when it comes to the Guide Dogs Cymru collection day in July.

“It’s important we recognise the needs of guide dogs owners and users when it comes to access to the shopping centre and our retail and leisure outlets.

“Indeed we welcome people suffering from any disability and will also endeavour to ensure they enjoy a warm, pleasant and enjoyable visit to Eagles Meadow.”      

For more information about Guide Dogs Cymru visit www.guidedogs.org.uk/guide-dogs-cymru and for more information about Eagles Meadow Shopping Centre, including opening times, please visit www.eagles-meadow.co.uk