Guide Dogs Victoria – Many jewels in their crown

Celebrating International Guide Dogs Day – Part 1

When my father and I arrived at the Rialto Building in the heart of Melbourne, exploding out of the lift on the 35th floor in fear of being late for this special event, we were soon calmed by a kind smile and an offer of a soft drink by one of the staff of Guide Dogs Victoria.

It was an honour to receive a personal invitation to celebrate International Guide Dogs Day 2013, and here we were, among a select group of guests, admiring the bird’s eye view of our sprawling city. Sipping our juice and exchanging pleasantries with the other guests, my father described the grey outline from this fabulous vantage point. He fiddled with loose change in his pocket that hid the fact that he had almost had a heart attack to get me here on time. We smile and breathe again, pushing away the nightmare experience of the past hour in search of one city car park.

In Good Company

Karen Hayes warmly welcomed us all and proceeded to give a presentation as the CEO of Guide Dogs Victoria. As we ate a delicious entree and main course, Karen thanked all those people for their ongoing support of guide dogs, giving us an interesting history of the Association’s humble beginnings back in 1957, and an overview of the many programs they fund and offer to their clients.

Guide Dogs Victoria is currently ranked as the 3rd most popular organisation in Victoria and is recognised for many mobility programs that help the blind and vision-impaired community all around Australia – and their dog breeding program is recognised internationally as one of the best in the world.

Karen invited philanthropist Betty Amsden to say a few words as a long time supporter of GDV. No one could have kept us more spellbound. A beautiful, warm-hearted and passionate lady spilling over with kindness and good humour, Betty appealed to the group of financial donors to look deeper into their pockets.

“Take a moment to consider how your ongoing support makes a significant difference to the lives of others.”

“Yes, we love to give to the guide dogs, they do such a wonderful job – but look deeper. Why do we give? We give because we know what a difference these dogs make in the lives of their human companions.”

She reminded us that these well trained and beautifully natured dogs offer the gift of independent living. How much is that worth?

And out of the blue, in a gesture to encourage a flow-on of support, Betty made a generous commitment to fund one of the current programs. I was fortunate to speak with Betty after the luncheon. She is one of the most delightful and gracious women that I have ever had the pleasure to meet – my heart feels so grateful for people like you, dear Betty.

‘Billy – my pup, my eyes, and my mate.’

The room was bathed in a warm glow as Betty walked back to her seat. It was the perfect time for Karen to invite guest speaker, Henry Macphillamy to tell us his story: a story of triumph over adversity, and the touching tale of how his first guide dog, Billy, began a journey that changed his life.

Betty had opened our minds and hearts, and Henry’s story soon inspired our spirits. His words certainly moved me to silent tears. As I listened to Henry’s experiences with his guide dog, I couldn’t help but think of my dear Nev and those early days when we first met and trained together. Everything Henry shared about Billy, I felt a warm tear drop into my heart, in memory of my guide dog who had devoted himself just as short-lived Billy had.

In Henry’s words, ‘When you’re suddenly given increased independence and access to opportunities to get out, you really appreciate the simple things.’

Henry moved to Melbourne from his home in NSW and Billy gave him the independence he needed as a Melbourne Uni student to get around the Law Department and many other places.

The room of guests were drinking up his story, feeling inspired by Henry’s tenacity in not letting life hold him back. He had Billy by his side but, abruptly and prematurely, his guide dog passed away last year and, naturally, Henry was devastated. A shock wave swept through the room as we tried to imagine his grief.


A Tribute and a Legacy

With the help of Guide Dogs Vic, Henry was soon training with his second pup, Quade – but it was Henry’s determination to continue in the same spirit as he had when Billy walked beside him, in order to make something good and positive come from an otherwise incalculable loss.

So what did Henry do?

He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (as you do) in a loving tribute to his loyal buddy, Billy. On December 1st, 2012, Henry, totally blind, reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro with other members of Team Doggies from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. Henry used a long cane, trekking poles and guides as he negotiated the rocky terrain.

In an article I read after the luncheon, Henry writes, ‘It was as much a mental challenge as it was physical.’ He did the climb to honour all the loyalty and love Billy had given him over the years. Henry also raised over $31,500 for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.

I went up and thanked Henry for sharing his inspiring story and, of course, to ask if I could pat his new guide dog. A sweet black Labrador lay faithfully by his chair and Quade came to life as I reached down to feel his soft triangular ears. This young chap certainly has a large paw print to follow but I am sure, both he and Henry will go far.


Mt Kilimanjaro Summit

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog

You are his life, his love, his leader

He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart

You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion”



If you would like to know more about the services Guide Dogs Victoria provide and the many ways in which you can get involved and make a difference, go to:

Read more about Henry Macphillamy’s tribute to Billy:

© 2013 Maribel Steel

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