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Seeing the way clear - Guide Dog Gala Day

SOMETIMES, THINGS go wrong. No matter how hard you try, no matter how many pitfalls and problems you plan and prepare for, nothing goes right on the day. And then, conversely, there are those wonderful (albeit rare) occasions when everything goes right – and I was delighted to attend just such an event that fitted very comfortably into the latter category; the 3rd annual Guide Dogs for the Blind Gala Day.

After last year’s event had to be cancelled on health and safety grounds after torrential rain turned the GDBA’s own land into a quagmire, this year’s event was staged at Stoneleigh Park showground, Warwickshire – and it couldn’t have been a been a better day. The sun shone (very hotly!), the crowds thronged in, there were trade stalls, a whole host of fun events and main ring attractions, charity stands, live jazz music and, of course, more guide dogs than you could ever hope to see gathered in one place.

The whole event was masterminded by the GDBA’s genial general, Neil Ewart, who managed to oversee matters without too much interference from the dreaded Health & Safety (also known as the Elfin Safety Stasi).

One of the showpieces of the whole day was the Great GDBA Gala Day Fun Run, in which runners were sponsored by family and friends to raise funds for GDBA. They could choose either a 5k or 10k run, although jogging or walking was perfectly acceptable! Guide Dog owner Dave Heeley, who earlier this year successfully ran seven marathons, in seven days, on seven continents, took part in great style.

Commentary on the run and the other events taking place was conducted courtesy of the ever-popular Crufts presenter Peter Purves, who was on the second of three such events over the space of as many days. But in typical PP fashion, he made everything interesting, entertaining and as stylish as one would expect from the great man himself.


There were classes for Guide Dogs to be judged – nothing too serious, more a celebration of the marvellous animals – and I was delighted to be one of the judges, whereby my skills (such as they were) were called upon to judge puppies aged six months and under and six months and over, from the South East area. Needless to say that was great fun and I was truly honoured to take part and to meet so many delightful dogs and their owners. (Thanks for the very acceptable bottle of Merlot too, Neil!)

Neil Ewart commented: ‘The whole ethos of the day isn’t to raise money as such, but if we do seek to raise anything, it’s awareness. It’s also our chance, as an organisation, to say a big ‘Thank You’ to all the puppy walkers, fosterers, volunteers, supporters and staff who work so hard for GDBA throughout the year… It’s a celebration of them and, of course, of the dogs themselves.

‘We also like to provide a forum for other Assistance Dog charities and dog-related charities to show the great work they do. I firmly believe that we should all work together, particularly in 2008, the year of the Assistance Dog.

‘To everyone who helped out, to everyone who attended, a huge Thank You… and we look forward to seeing you all again same time, next year.’

Not that my words could top what Neil so eloquently said, but if you fancy a real fun day out with your family – and your dogs, because they’re all welcome – then why not give the GDBA Gala Day a try next year? I think you may be pleasantly surprised…!

Finnigan's (a)wake! Irish Water Spaniel Finnigan, aged 4, is the GDBA's only Irish Water Spaniel and is emnployed as a breeding dog (very successfully). He is pictured here with his foster parent Kevin Burgess form Birmingham.

There are lots of different breeds and crossbreeds of Guide Dog. 10 month-old 'Chanelle' is a Border Collie/Golden Retriever cross and is currently in training with Val Gere from Tamworth.

Amongst the charity and trade stands were Dog Theft Action and the KC's Petlog. Margaret Nawrockyi of DTA, along with Daphne Townsend and her dog Dusty, who was stolen and later returned. Dusty is a registered canine blood donor, and Celia Waldsom of Petlog.

The hot weather was just tooooo much for some dogs...

Mary Stevens of Daybreak Kennels, the Perry Barr Retired Greyhound Trust branch in Birmingham, together with ex-racing rescued Greyhounds Patch and Beau.

Over on the Dogs For The Disabled stand were Stephanie Burdett with her Chocolate Labrador assistance dog 'Bailey' (5) and Sara Carr with her Black Labrador assistance dog 'Demi' (also 5).

Nearly there! 10 month-old 'Grant' is an older Guide Dog puppy in training and soon hopes to qualify and make the grade. He is currently in training with Mary Robertson from Bromsgrove, Birmingham.

'Hector', a striking 16 week-old Labradoodle puppy is currently in training as a Guide Dog.

'Read all abaaaat it! Celebrity loves OUR DOGS!' Popular Crufts presenter Peter Purves endorses his favourite reading matter, much to the delight of promoter Margaret Kempster.