Dates for assembly

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Outline script for assembly leader

Ian Weston is blind. Travelling by train one day, he thought it had stopped in a station. It hadn't. Ian managed to open the door, and gave the command "Forward" to his guide dog Voss. Voss saw the drop on to the other track, hesitated and pushed Ian back into the carriage. Moments later, an express raced by. Ian would have been killed if Voss had not remembered his training.

The earliest known picture of a guide dog is 2,000 years old. It is a mural in the ruins of Roman Herculaneum, near Pompeii and shows a blind man led by a dog on a lead. The modern guide dog movement started during the First World War when many soldiers were blinded by poison gas. A German doctor, Gerhard Stalling, set up "schools" to train dogs to guide blinded soldiers.

The British charity Guide Dogs for the Blind now trains 1,200 guide dogs each year. When they are seven weeks old, the specially bred puppies go to live with "puppy walkers" who introduce them to the sights, sounds and smells of a town. This means taking them on buses and trains, into shops and along busy streets. The puppy is taught to walk ahead on a lead (and not to "heel") and to obey commands such as "sit", "down", "stay" and "come".

The puppy then returns to the charity for advanced training. It learns to judge height and width so that its owner will not bang their head or shoulder, and also how to cope with traffic. It meets its new owner and they spend four weeks of intensive training together. The visually-impaired owner then hands over a token 50p for the dog and the guide dog is awarded its white harness.

Follow-up

In drama, explore the trust a blind-folded person needs to follow a seeing, human guide, and the sensitivity the latter needs to keep the former safe.

If possible, invite a guide dog and its owner to talk about their life together. Discuss how towns and transport could be more user-friendly to visually-impaired people.

Further information is available by visiting www.guidedogs.org.uk.

Information about hearing dogs for profoundly deaf people is at www.hearing-dogs.co.uk.

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