MEET Doc, a golden bundle of fluff who is busy exploring the streets of the borough as he takes his first few steps at becoming a guide dog.
The 14-week-old Labrador Golden Retriever cross pup has been placed in the care of Jackie and Barry Salter from Pensnett, who will be his volunteer puppy walkers for the year.
The couple, who have been puppy walking for guide dogs for more than a year-and-a-half, are playing a vital role in Doc’s early training, introducing him to as many conditions and environments as possible, before he leaves them to begin specialised training at the charity’s school.
Jackie, who works from home, said: “We have to begin his obedience training, teaching him basic commands such as sit, stay and down, as well as teaching him to be on his own for up to three hours a day.
“We also have to get him used to as many different surroundings and noises as possible. So far he has been on buses, in shops, he has visited Merry Hill, been on the Severn Valley Railway and been around busy main roads with lots of traffic which will help him be at ease in all situations when he is paired with a blind or partially-sighted person full-time.
“The hardest thing is treating him as a working animal and not as a pet.
So Doc sleeps downstairs, unlike our old pet dog, who used to sleep upstairs with us.”
Jackie, aged 48 and her retired husband, Barry, who have also puppy walked a German Shepherd called Nigel, receive constant back-up from the charity who are always on hand to provide help and support, especially when the dogs get moved on at around 12 to 14 months old.
Jackie said: “When Nigel left us it was a real dark day. It is very hard when they leave, because they do become part of the family.
“When they leave us they will go to more formal training before being placed with a person full-time and that can be anywhere in the country.
“The charity do keep us informed of where they go and how they are doing and the owners keep in touch with us as well so we do hear how they are doing.
“But it is really rewarding to know we are giving something back to the community by doing this and ultimately we are giving someone their independence back. And as an added bonus we get to look after a beautiful puppy for 12 months.”
It costs £50,000 for the charity to fund a guide dog during its lifetime and there are over 4,500 guide dogs currently making a life-changing difference to the lives of blind and partially sighted people throughout the country.
The guide dog charity receives no government or statutory funding and relies entirely on public donations and voluntary help.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer puppy walker should call 0845 371 7771 or email volunteer@ guidedogs.org.uk.