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Trainee guide dog Rita is a celebrity in Moulton Seas End where she is being cared for by puppy raiser Ann





A puppy who will one day be the lifeline for a visually impaired person is carrying out the foundations of her training in the Lincolnshire countryside.

Rita the black Labrador has become a bit of a celebrity around Moulton Seas End where she has been cared for by puppy raiser Ann Colwell.

Ann is one of hundreds of Guide Dogs volunteers who are opening their homes and hearts to puppies who will one day go off and change the life of a visually impaired person by supporting vital independence and freedom.

Puppy raiser Ann Colwell is incredibly fond of trainee guide dog Rita
Puppy raiser Ann Colwell is incredibly fond of trainee guide dog Rita

According to NHS figures, there are two million people in the UK who are visually impaired with more than 340,000 of that number being registered blind or partially sighted.

So the work put in by volunteers such as Ann is hugely important — as well as being incredibly rewarding.

“It’s something that I have always wanted to do,” said Ann, who is a first time puppy raiser.

Where it all began: Puppy raiser Ann Colwell with the lovely Rita when she was tiny
Where it all began: Puppy raiser Ann Colwell with the lovely Rita when she was tiny

“I am an ex-nurse and had friends who were visually impaired when I was growing up but none had guide dogs. It has always been something that appealed to me.

“Now I have more time to do it - I don’t know how people do it when they have kids and jobs. There are hundreds of us around the country.

“I am incredibly fond of Rita but I know that I will have to give her up. There are people on Facebook who have had 18 guide dog puppies.”

Trainee Guide Dog Rita has become a celebrity in Moulton Seas End
Trainee Guide Dog Rita has become a celebrity in Moulton Seas End

As a puppy raiser, Ann is helping to not only provide a loving home for Rita for her first 12 to 16 months but to also provide the grounding for her future role as a guide dog.

Rita needs to be unflappable when she is out working so Ann is not only helping with training but also supporting socialisation and introducing her to new environments and experiences.

Ann, who has been caring for Rita since February 29, said: “I took her as an eight-week old now she is so much bigger.

Puppy raiser Ann Colwell with the lovely Rita
Puppy raiser Ann Colwell with the lovely Rita

“It is not like raising a puppy in the sense that you know you can make mistakes that you can correct. It’s a ‘no’ to certain things like jumping up.

“It is the same as having a puppy of your own but there are something you can’t do. You can’t have them on the settee or your bed. It is a lot more structured.

“We are doing lots of different things. I have taken her to the Range in Boston and Tesco. We have a cricket field nearby and they cut the grass so we take her over there. We are trying to expose her to as many noises as we can.

A younger Rita takes a snooze...
A younger Rita takes a snooze...

“Eventually we will have to take her on the buses or trains. We have been to Spalding already. We try to broaden their horizons so they don’t find anything scary.

“We went down the playing field and she’s quite the celebrity - everyone knows Rita.”

Ann and Rita are working through the the structured Puppy Raising for Excellent Partnerships (PREP) training programme to help the youngster get ready to prepare for the later stages of her training. They also attend puppy classes.

Beautiful guide dog Rita will one day change someone's life
Beautiful guide dog Rita will one day change someone's life

Recall is an important skill for any dog but for a guide dog it is even more important.

Along with obediently returning when called, Rita must also have the added extra of touching the hand of her owner - so once she is matched up with her visually impaired partner they will know she has come back.

Toilet training is another key thing for any dog but there is a further skill for a guide dog. They have to be trained to use a ‘spent pen’ which again helps with the necessary clean-up for someone who is visually impaired.

Brave puppy on a trip to the vets
Brave puppy on a trip to the vets

Sitting and staying are also important for a guide dog - along with being comfortable alone.

Ann, who has also taken Rita to her craft group, said: “Everyone says it is a rollercoaster, some days you think ‘I’ve got this’ and others ‘what the hell is happening here’.

“It’s really enjoyable when you get something right and it’s going well.

Trainee guide dog Rita relaxes
Trainee guide dog Rita relaxes

“The other thing we are working on when you go somewhere like Springfields to sit down at the cafe.

“The weeks go so quickly and the weeks go so quickly and I like the challenge.

“It is lovely that she is a personality and is so independent.

Look at those ears fly! Rita the guide dog enjoys a day at the beach and is showing off her recall
Look at those ears fly! Rita the guide dog enjoys a day at the beach and is showing off her recall

“I am really proud of her. She is doing so well.”

Guide dogs are currently recruiting for recruiting for volunteer Puppy Raisers and volunteer Puppy Fosterers, who will care for a dog on a temporary basis, in Lincolnshire.

The requirements for people who are interested in puppy raising are:

Rita is learning how to behave in a cafe
Rita is learning how to behave in a cafe

- A loving home with enough time to invest in raising a puppy and attending to their needs (e.g. toilet training)

- Someone at home who is physically able to handle large breed dogs (around 25-40kg).

- Access to a car to get the puppy used to travelling.

- A safe secure area outside for the puppy to go to the toilet.

Puppy raiser Ann Colwell is exposing trainee guide dog Rita to lots of different experiences to ensure she is unflappable
Puppy raiser Ann Colwell is exposing trainee guide dog Rita to lots of different experiences to ensure she is unflappable

Ann started the process in April last year and is the only one in this area to be raising puppies.

She said: “You apply and they come back to you. They ask for two references. You do a video call and I had to go to Swinderby to do a puppy walking test.

“I would recommend it to other people. You are doing something that could change someone’s life and just giving something back.

Puppy raiser Ann Colwell is incredibly fond of trainee guide dog Rita
Puppy raiser Ann Colwell is incredibly fond of trainee guide dog Rita

“If I can do it, anyone can do it. You have to have the commitment but you know what you are doing is good. It makes you have pride.

“It gives you a lot of pleasure and joy.

“I want to encourage people to do it as it is so rewarding.”

*If you would like more information on volunteering please call 0345 1430191.



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