NEATH dog lovers are being called on to help raise future guide dogs for a national charity.
Guide Dogs Cymru is in need of people to become puppy walkers, and take care of guide dog pups from six weeks to 12 months, before they are trained by the charity.
Volunteers will be expected to provide full-time care and education to the hounds for that period.
The young dogs spend much of their first year living with the puppy walker volunteers, learning basic obedience and getting used to a home environment, noise and the bustle of towns.
The volunteers will prepare them for their working life ahead by taking them on public transport. The charity will supply basic equipment and cover all veterinary and feeding expenses.
Mike Clifford, of Skewen, has been a puppy walker for the past nine years.
His first dog has recently retired, and he’s just taken delivery of Zephyr, who is now 10 weeks old.
"She’s a tearaway," he said.
"But the process of training them is the same, they’ll go outside to do their business and then once the inoculations are done we’ll go out walking and on public transport.
"I take them on the train and bus into Swansea, and into the Quadrant, into shops to do what they’ll be doing with a blind person."
He added that nobody should be phased by the responsibility.
"I had to learn they are good dogs to train, don’t be daunted — if I can do it, anybody can."
He said the rewards come when the puppy qualifies at training school and goes off to help a blind or partially sighted person.
"When you know they are going to help someone, that’s what stimulates me to keep doing it," he said.
Mel Wharmby, Guide Dogs’ puppy walking supervisor, said: "We’re looking for enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers who can care for the pups full time because, at the end of the day, if we don’t have puppy walkers we don’t have guide dogs.
"Puppy walking is challenging and it’s a real commitment to take a puppy in to your home for a year but, with the support of Guide Dogs staff, our volunteers find it extremely rewarding and worthwhile."
To become a puppy walker, volunteers will need access to a car, and will have to be with the puppy for most of the day.
They must be free to take their puppy into many varied environments and their yard or garden will also need to be securely fenced so that the puppy remains safely within its confines.
To help call Steve Kersley on 07785 907728 or email Steve.Kersley@guidedogs.org.uk
Find out about the first year in the life of a Guide Dog puppy in this video below: