THE Cork-based Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind has said the Government needs to "step up" and increase its investment in the centre as it was revealed waiting lists have reached 18 months long.
Demand for the centre’s service dogs far outstrips the number of guide dogs available, according to spokesman for the charity, David McCarthy, who said the service needs €85,000 a week to survive - money which is primarily raised through fundraising initiatives and public donations.
“We’ve been doing it (fundraising) for more than 40 years, but there needs to be more funding and involvement from the state. The current average wait time is 12 to 18 months. The longest waiting client outside that average, of which there is one currently, is 22 months.”
Mr McCarthy said the organisation was simply “not producing enough dogs to meet the demand” and that “85% of their money comes from fundraising”.
He believes the charity doesn’t receive more government funding because it has successfully continued to raise money itself each year.
“We’re a victim of our own success,” Mr McCarthy said.
Legally blind Lena Gourley, from Gurranabraher, has been using the service for almost 40-years. Her guide dog Elsa was recently retired from work and because there is no replacement dog available, Ms Gourley has to use a cane.
Elsa’s harness was removed when she reached retirement age because it was unsafe for the pair to keep working together, However Ms Gourley was allowed keep the dog as a companion. As there is a shortage of service dogs, Ms Gourley could be waiting at least a year for a replacement dog.
The 71-year-old was 31 when she lost her sight, due to detached retinas.
She said: “They knew 14-months ago that she was coming up to retirement and they should have had a dog for me.
“I’m not confident with that stick at all. They told me I’ll have to wait up to a year for another dog.” Mr McCarthy said he couldn’t speak about individual cases, but added that dogs are usually retired when they reach 10 years old.
“If a dog is getting older, if they’ve gained weight or they’re suffering from cancer or arthritis it might cause them to curtail work of the partnerships, or to end it prematurely, or lighten the dog's load,” Mr McCarthy said.
“When we retire a guide dog the procedure is to remove a harness.
“The partnership is no longer safe for this dog and person to work in a guide dog capacity.
“We try to maintain the skills with a cane so they have a safe and practical level of mobility.” Mr McCarthy said some people don’t like using a cane and prefer using a canine.