Blind veteran Mark Pile explains how the arrival of his guide dog Echo was a life-changing experience.

My guide dog Echo joined me in 2017. After some intense training I brought her home and my life changed for the better. We built up our activities slowly, but it was great fun learning together. Echo is not only my guide, she is my best friend. She always has one eye on me even when she is not in her harness, and loves to work – when I put on her harness she automatically goes into work mode.

Having a guide dog has given me the confidence to go out once again. I have learned to relax more and I trust her to take care of me. As I am a photographer, my attention has to be on my pictures, but she is so patient. I can find a place I would like to take a photograph of and she will just sit until I have finished, without any complaints.

Echo and I have travelled to a many more places than I would have done without her. She has given me the confidence to travel on different modes of transport. I often use London Underground to get about and regularly explore Central London. We even went to the Tower of London to photograph the Blind Veterans UK One Team Awards a few years ago.

Echo has saved my life twice so far when she stopped me getting knocked over on a crossing when cars failed to. Echo works very hard and likes to play hard when she gets an opportunity. She also likes to meet new people if it’s the right time for her to do so. Sometimes it isn’t always possible for her to interact with other people as she may be resting or just walking with me on her lead but not her harness.

Even when Echo is just on her lead she is still looking after me. For instance, if we are about to reach some steps she will show me where the bottom step is by putting her front paws on it, if we are coming down the steps she will simply stop.

I would like to encourage people to ask before they touch a guide dog as you don’t know what the owner wants the dog to be doing. I would also ask people not to touch or call out to a guide dog at any time – some people think you are allowed to touch a guide dog if it doesn’t have a harness on but this is not the case. You should always talk to the owner first as they know what is best for their dog.

If you are thinking of applying for a guide dog I would recommend it, but remember they are a lot of work. You have to provide them with plenty of exercise, feed them, groom them and play with them – and you will have to get used to finding dog hair everywhere! But it is a small price to pay to welcome an animal into your home that will change your life.

Please remember that guide dogs are working dogs and must not be distracted when doing their job. When a guide dog is working, they will be wearing their harness. Do not pet them, try to get their attention or offer them food. Even if a guide dog is out of harness, please always ask if it is okay to say hello or stroke them.

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