Last night (May 17) the Hurlingham Club, London, hosted the prestigious Guide Dogs Annual Awards, which highlights the achievements and inspirational stories from the Guide Dogs charity.
From overcoming life-threatening injuries to finding a new lease of life at 93, from beating the bullies and achieving their career goals, to the everyday day issues people with sight loss face on a daily basis. These were the amazing stories highlighted at last nights event. In the categories, guide dogs and their owners were recognised including Kimberley Burrows and guide dog Tami who won the ‘Life Changing Partnership Award’, sponsored by Specsavers.
Kim, 28, has always been severely sight impaired but being bullied throughout school left her feeling isolated. She reflects, “I struggled to accept my disability, I wanted to hide away and hated using the long cane as I felt it made me the target of more abuse. I spent a total of seven years not wanting to leave the house.”
Following a visit to Henshaws Patient Support Room, a support worker encouraged Kimberley to attend a ‘living with sight loss’ course where she met an inspirational guide dog owner. It’s what convinced her to reach out to Guide Dogs, and a year later she was matched with Labrador, retriever cross Tami. She’s now pursuing her dream of becoming a professional illustrator and studying for a degree in Illustration at Leeds College of Art with Tami by her side.
In the future, Kimberley hopes to work as a professional children’s book illustrator and encourage others living with sight loss to get in touch with their creative side.
Dianne Woodford, 49, and guide dog Darcy, from Hull, won the ‘Beyond the Call of Duty Award’. Without any extra training, “super-dog” Darcy is able to help Dianne manage her diabetes and epilepsy by sensing when her blood sugar levels are low or when a seizure is imminent.
Dianne said, “Darcy’s such an excitable dog and so lovely to be with. She gives me the confidence to go out on my own. I may feel fine, but Darcy won’t let me move from my chair and refuses to budge. I know to trust her and just wait until she lets me move again.”
This year’s Inspirational Guide Dog Owner Award was chosen by viewers of ITV This Morning and recognises those who have made exceptional achievements or have overcome significant challenges in the last year. The charity has worked closely with the show over the last couple of years and viewers have followed puppies Clover and Luna, who feature in our June issue, on their journey to becoming working guide dogs.
Louise Jenkins, from Llandysul, Wales, was announced as the winner. Fourteen years ago, Louise was a busy mum with teenage daughters. Then, aged 40, her world turned upside down after a spinal cord infection permanently damaged her sight, causing blindness in one eye and tunnel vision in the other. For Louise, getting guide dog was as life changing as losing her sight. Her independence and confidence quickly returned, and she was able to retrain at university and now manages a drop-in centre for people with mental health needs. She also provides home care for her husband and looks after her parents who have complex health needs.
Louise was presented with her award by This Morning celebrity doctors, Dr. Ranj Singh and Dr. Zoe Williams, who also hosted the awards ceremony part of the evening, and Guide Dogs’ very own superstar – Luna (main photo).
The final award of the evening was the Young Persons Achievement Award which went to Lucy Edwards, 21, from Birmingham. With her guide dog Olga by her side, the law student and YouTube sensation has not let losing her sight at 17 stop her from inspiring others.
The charity’s stars were also joined by celebrities in highlighting the charity’s work. Amongst the stars was reality star and actress Jess Impiazzi with her mum Debbie and her guide dog Kacey, TOWIE heart-throb Pete Wicks, former stars of Made in Chelsea – Lucy Watson and James Dunmore, England Olympic hockey champion Sophie Bray, Soprano Laura Wright, KISS FM DJ Pandora Christie and Blue Peter presenter Lindsey Russell.
Commenting on the Guide Dogs Annual Awards 2017, Steve Vaid, Guide Dogs Acting Chief Executive, said, “It is always a highlight on the calendar when we get the chance to hear heart-warming stories and celebrate the incredible achievements of the people we support and those who help support out charity’s life-changing work. Whether it’s getting out to meet friends, fulfilling career ambitions or helping others, Guide Dogs make sure there is enough support so that no one is left out of life because of their sight loss.”