In her twenties, Rhiannon carried a “symbol white cane”, but was reluctant to train with a “long cane”. Getting a guide dog was not a simple decision, and it almost felt like “coming out” as a disabled person with a very visible symbol of that disability. She made that choice to have a guide dog in 2002, and has not regretted it for a minute. Rhiannon trained with her first guide dog Vikki in 2002 at Leamington Spa. Vikki retired in 2009, but continued to live with the family as a much loved friend, and her second guide dog Jazz took over the partnership. Routine walks to work over the Menai Suspension bridge are interspersed with UK-wide and international travel, if fact, in 2005 Vikki was the first guide dog to make a trans-Atlantic crossing in the passenger cabin rather than the hold after a change in policy by US Airlines. These partnerships with her guide dogs have enabled Rhiannon to travel unaccompanied and participate on equal terms with other delegates at prestigious academic events and conferences all over the world.
Rhiannon and Paul, and Rhiannon’s mother Eleri, continually sponsor guide dog puppy training and are actively involved in fundraising for guide dogs. In Rhiannon’s experience having a guide dog in the early stages of losing most her sight, enabled her to retain and grow her confidence and ability to participate professional life. She says “You have to appreciate the difference that a guide dog can make to the life of someone who is experiencing sight loss. Not only do they act as your eyes, helping you to navigate around a world that is becoming increasingly difficult to access, but they help to break down communication barriers with fully sighted people. Disability can make people uncomfortable.”
Rhiannon recalls getting on a train at Euston station with her guide dog to return home to Anglesey after a successful meeting at the medical research council. She says: “I was looking elegant and business-like. I’d had a very productive meeting, and was feeling generally on a high, when a fellow passenger leaned over the table and said, in all seriousness and compassion, “looking at you dear makes me realise how very lucky I am.” – Her biggest piece of luck that day was that she had rendered me speechless!”To learn more about the essential work that guide dogs do, please visit the website Guide Dogs