As her eyesight deteriorated, Meredith Lyons felt herself become more reliant on her cane, and increasingly she felt herself becoming isolated.
Four years later, she was introduced to "the Rolls Royce of service animals", her seeing-eye dog, Bubble, and from there, she says "my world opened up again".
"The first thing I noticed was how friendly people became when I was with Bubble," the 63-year-old said.
"Walking with the cane, I felt alone. But now I have Bubble. She's not just my dog, she's part of me."
At the age of 40, Ms Lyons was diagnosed with a degenerating eye condition known as retinitis pigmentosa.
At the moment, she's still able to see light and shape, but soon even that will go.
"My ophthalmologist in Sydney suggested I think about a guide dog," she said, recalling the moment she was diagnosed with the disease. "I thought about it, I love dogs."
After applying, Ms Lyons waited more than two years before she was introduced to Bubble through Vision Australia.
On average the waiting list is between nine and 12 months long. But, Vision Australia says it is working to reduce that to just six months.
In Wagga, 21-year-old Joel Jensen had to wait only two months for his dog, Nicci, who came to him via Guide Dogs Australia.
"It was one of the quickest pairings they've done," he said.
Mr Jensen was born without a functioning iris and a clouded cornea. When he was just two weeks old, he had a successful corneal transplant.
"Without that, I'd have had zero to no vision," Mr Jenson said.
"I was born with my impairment. Having Nicci has given me more independence, it's meant I can get involved with social activities, I can go down town, having her has certainly made it easier to go to new places."
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The process for matching service animals to clients is time-consuming work. Lester Chraim oversees the dog training program at Vision Australia's headquarters in Melbourne.
He likens the process of pairing clients and dogs to "putting together a huge jigsaw".
"Matching the dog to their person is the hardest part," Mr Chraim said.
"We spend quite a bit of time talking and getting the best picture of what their day will look like and which dog will suit them."
The personality of the dogs and the habits of the clients are some of the factors that go into making the decision.
"Just like we have people of all shapes and sizes, we have dogs of all shapes and sizes," Mr Chraim said.
In rare cases, a mismatched pairing does happen, and Mr Chraim said, in those situations, adjustments need to take place. But eventually, in every case, the client will be matched with their perfect four-legged partner.
"We tell our clients, the training is a science but the matching is more of an art," Mr Chraim said.
"The dogs are not robots and there will almost always be a need for compromise. Getting a dog is a big adaption."
Each year, 50 dogs will graduate from Vision Australia's rigorous training program which begins with they are just weeks old.
The dog's journey to becoming a lifelong companion for a vision-impaired person begins in the homes of regular dog lovers like Liv and Aaron Butcher in Melbourne.
Together with their seven-year-old daughter, Mr and Mrs Butcher have cared for four dogs, with a fifth to arrive soon.
"We've fostered about 13 on top of that, but four of them so far have been full-time," Mrs Butcher said.
Around the country right now, there are up to 500 registered volunteers on the puppy carer program, with about 200 dogs at various levels of training so far.
"For us, it's how we can give back to the community and teach our daughter about the many ways you can help society," Mrs Butcher said.
"But then there's also selfish reasons. We love dogs and we love being around them."
The puppy carers stay with the dogs for about a year before they are ready to begin their formal vision training.
"As the pup gets older, you focus on different types of basic obedience and maintaining good manners in the home and in public," Mrs Butcher said.
"I work in an office, so the pups just sit under my desk when I take them. My husband is a school teacher so he's had to get clearance with the school and with the parents to have them there."
Adhering to the socialisation roadmap for each dog they fostered last year became hard while their home in Melbourne was locked down due to the pandemic.
"We often took the pups to the football or to the theatre, so not having that last year was hard," Mrs Butcher said.
"We had to get a letter of permission to allow us to go walk around the shopping centres and we simulated a cafe situation at home where we'd teach them to sit under our legs while we drank coffee at the dining table.
"We went on lots of walks, there were others walking around but not in the usual volumes. It was hard to introduce them to a lot of sounds because it was so quiet, but we did our best."
Only the best dogs will make it through the training process.
The Butcher's first dog, Jethro, was among the best. He became a breeder dog, fathering five litters of future service dogs. That job now done, this week he has gone on to be a seeing-eye dog for his first client.
"It's bittersweet, I'm so proud of him and I'm so proud of what he's going to do, but he's taken a bit of my heart with him," Mrs Butcher said.
"He never was ours, but you treat them as though they're your own until you give them on to their client."
The family's second and third dogs - Mario and Tino - finished their training last year, but fell just shy of the rigorous standards needed to be a seeing-eye dog and have become pets instead.
"They have a very important job, so it's important they're up [to it]," Mrs Butcher said.
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