Felicity Gates joins the Guide Dogs NSW/ACT team to offer services to those living on the South Coast offering training in how to use a long cane as well as a Guide Dog.
Understanding the psychology behind the way humans and dogs think and how they can work harmoniously together has fascinated Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Orientation and Mobility Instructor, Felicity Gates, for as long as she can remember.
After a 10 year break from her career to focus on family and a sea change to a home on the water, Felicity has returned to her beloved profession and is now providing assistance to people living on the South Coast.
“I decided 10 years was long enough to be away,” Felicity said. “I wanted to show my children that you can re-enter the workforce after a break and reconnected with Guide Dogs. Returning to the job I love also helps my wellbeing.”
Based in Bega, Felicity will tailor programs to meet the lifestyle needs of each individual client, and deliver training locally, in the person’s home, community or work environment. “Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is so much more than just providing Guide Dogs” Felicity said “We train people to move safely and independently using a range of mobility aids and electronic devices such as the long cane and GPS technology”.
It was Felicity’s brother who encouraged her to apply for a job with the organisation some 20 years ago. “After finishing my degree, I was talking to him about how I enjoyed sociology and psychology and was interested in both dogs and people and he said why not see if you can work for Guide Dogs,” she said.
Felicity started with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT as a Pets As Therapy (PAT) Client Liaison Officer, helping to place carefully selected dogs with people who may be disadvantaged due to age illness, disability or isolation.
From here, Felicity undertook a Graduate Diploma of Health Science (Vision Impairment) to become an Orientation & Mobility Instructor. This was followed by a further three years of study to become an Orientation & Mobility Guide Dog Instructor.
Although she is now working in a different part of state since returning to Guide Dogs, Felicity has met the occasional familiar face, including a client who’s Guide Dog she trained.
She said the role of instructor required her to be friendly, open and observant with a high level of understanding of both people and dogs. “You also need to be very patient,” Felicity said.
Before hitting the ground on the South Coast, Felicity spent time at the Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Sydney office and also the Guide Dogs Centre, where each Guide Dog is bred, raised and trained at a cost of more than $35,000 each, to refamilarise herself with the organisation.
Since returning she said she had observed a marked difference in the dogs, due to the in-house breeding program. “The dogs seem softer and more compliant now,” she said. “It was so lovely to see one-week-old puppies.”
Felicity is looking forward to meeting new clients on the South Coast and helping them achieve their mobility goals, whether that be through the use of low vision aids, a long cane or a Guide Dog.
“A person doesn’t have to be totally blind to receive help from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT,” she said. “Anyone losing their sight is encouraged to contact us early, to reduce the risks of falls, accidents and depression.”
Felicity will also be assisting those who have become National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants. “As well as connecting participants to support providers, we can help NDIS participants with the co-ordination of supports on their individual plans,” she said.
Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind.