HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.54 pm]: During the dinner break, I was very pleased to host Guide Dogs WA at the Western Australian Parliament. I thank the Presiding Officers for allowing the function to proceed. We had hoped to do that earlier in the year, but we were unable to do that due to the COVID restrictions. Therefore, I was very pleased that we were able to do that today. I thank the many members of Parliament who came to the function and had their photo taken with one of the guide dogs and have taken to social media to help promote the important messages that Guide Dogs WA is hoping to make better known among the Western Australian public. We were fortunate to hear from Elizabeth Barnes, the chief executive officer of VisAbility, and also Danny Van Vliet, a guide dog owner and handler, and John Nolan, the vice chair of Guide Dogs WA. We got to see three lovely dogs—Cody, who is our ambassador dog; Vicky, a puppy who is currently in training; and Landy, who is a full working dog.
It is particularly important that we help to draw attention to the challenges that Guide Dogs WA is having in ensuring that it is able to train up the number of guide dogs that are wanted by people who are vision-impaired or blind. There is currently a considerable waitlist for people to get a guide dog.
In particular, I note the challenges of getting puppy fosterers for guide dogs, and the critical role they play in ensuring that the dogs are trained appropriately. Guide dog puppies are placed in a home when they are very little, normally between six and eight weeks of age. They stay with the puppy fosterer until they begin formal training at between 16 and 18 months of age. Puppy fosterers play an important role in socialising the puppies, familiarising them with being out in public, and helping them cope with loud noises and a range of environments. Puppy raisers attend periodic training and obedience classes with Guide Dogs WA trainers. They are responsible for the basic training of the puppies, making sure they are toilet trained and socialised. They have the right to take the puppies into public places such as shops and cinemas, and onto public transport. The trainers regularly visit the puppies to check their progress and to assist with any queries or concerns.
When puppies begin their formal training, they live with a volunteer formal boarder. A formal boarder provides a stable, safe and loving home while the young adult dog is in formal training for between six and 12 months at Guide Dogs WA’s premises in Victoria Park. Formal boarders take on quite an onerous regime. They have to drop off the pups at school every morning and collect them every afternoon. There are also volunteer temporary boarders who take care of dogs in training during holidays, if someone is sick, or in emergencies. Sometimes people find that they cannot commit to an entire year of such a regime but they are able to do a couple of weeks at a time. Formal and temporary boarders are expected to follow the trainer’s instructions and to ensure consistency and structure for the young dogs while they are in training. It is important to remember that Guide Dogs WA provides everything that the dogs need, such as food, toys, bedding and collars and leads, and of course pays for any veterinarian costs.
More information is available at guidedogswa.com.au, which also spells out all the opportunities for people to assist in dog training. The dogs complete their formal training at around 18 months of age. Once they are matched to a handler, they go on to work for between seven and eight years. In total, it costs about $50 000 to train one guide dog. Puppy fosterers play a particularly important and significant role. It is important that people remember that guide dogs are allowed by law to go anywhere that their people go. It is also important that we have a better understanding of the protocols around how to interact with guide dogs, such as if they are wearing a harness, do not touch them, because they are clearly working, and certainly do not try to distract them.
I thank those members very much who have taken on board the learnings from Guide Dogs WA and who were so keen and enthusiastic to help promote the message of guide dogs. I have a particular interest in this because of my son. It is one of those matters that easily crosses all political persuasions. It is something that we can all get behind. I thank members very much for all the support they have given.