Canine cause: keeping an eye on Wagga’s visually impaired residents and their dogs

PUPPY LOVE: He's a proud and fiercely independent man but Geoff Conway wouldn't be able to navigate around town without the assistance of his guide dog, Jan. Picture: Les Smith
PUPPY LOVE: He's a proud and fiercely independent man but Geoff Conway wouldn't be able to navigate around town without the assistance of his guide dog, Jan. Picture: Les Smith

A vision-impaired North Wagga resident believes the city is largely accessible but people can still be oblivious to public disabilities.

Geoff Conway has been walking with guide dogs since 1994 following an industrial accident that robbed him of his vision.

24 years on, the retired serviceman and factory worker still finds himself bumping into pedestrians on the main street who aren’t paying attention.

“I’ve had a few crashes into people and it can happen anywhere,” he said.

First instinct is to blame the dog but usually it’ll be someone on the phone looking over their shoulder and not concentrating.

Poorly placed vehicles and objects are another hazard for the vision impaired.

“I’ve had a few times where people have left motorbikes on the footpath and I’ve walked straight into them,” he laughed.

“People leave all kinds of things out.”

It’s no mean feat sightlessly navigating the streets and Geoff believes the development of large shopping centres have made things more difficult to locate necessities.

“You used to be able to find your way around local shops easily,” he said.

“But with these big malls, it’s hard to find your way around and a lot of the businesses I used to attend are now in these centres.”

However, nothing will stand in the way of his independence.

“I’m not a person who goes into crowds and I’m quite happy with my own company and my dog, Jan-Jan,” he said.

I’ll call on Vision Australia and support groups if I need to but I’m very happy being independent.

Thankfully, Geoff’s canine companion, Jan, has every trick in the book.

“She really looks after me and she’s usually very good,” he said.

“Obviously she helps me around but she is also a resuscitation dog and she can wake me up if I pass out, which can happen sometimes.”

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has three registered guide dog handlers operating in the Wagga area with a further 11 operating in the broader Riverina.

Almost 25,000 people with sight loss, living in NSW/ACT, have engaged an assistance dog since 1957.