Owen and 'Vayda'
When Owen Christison and his dance partner Adine take to the floor at the National Capital DanceSport Championships in Canberra next month, they will have a silent but enthusiastic supporter in the crowd.
‘Vayda’ will be seated near officials, and like the perceptive judges beside her, she will keep a close eye on the couple: their timing, footwork, rise and fall, alignment and floor craft, but most of all their direction.
Because when the music ends and the pair leave the dance floor, ‘Vayda’ will want to take her place at the feet of Owen. The three-year old black Golden Retriever-Labrador Cross is Owen’s Guide Dog.
Eight months ago Guide Dogs Queensland placed ‘Vayda’ with Owen who faces the challenges of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). The eye condition affects around one in 3,500 Australians and leads to incurable blindness.
Their match has proved not only life-changing for the 46-year-old Toowoomba local but also life-saving, literally. Owen has no doubt that if it weren’t for the intuitive ‘Vayda’ he might not be with us today.
“I am still surprised by how smart she is. One day I was trying to cross a road and telling ‘Vayda’ ‘Forward’ but she wasn’t budging.
I was getting frustrated with her because I didn’t know why she wouldn’t move.
“A few moments later I felt a gust of wind created by a bus or a truck, said Owen.
“I was so proud of her for using her judgement not to cross the road because she saved me from serious injury or worse.
Owen is also partially deaf, so in circumstances not unlike the traffic incident ‘Vayda’ is his eyes and ears.
“She goes everywhere with me. At first I thought it would take a bit to get used to [working with a Guide Dog] as I was such an independent person, but now I cannot imagine my life without her, said Owen.
Guide Dogs not only provide freedom and independence to people with low or no vision, but they are also much-loved friends and companions that can ease the loneliness and social isolation many people without sight can experience.
But for Owen and Adine who is also his fiancée, ‘Vayda’ is so much more.
“She really has become like our child, said Owen.
And just like any new addition to the family the couple, who plan to marry in September, are renovating their home to accommodate ‘Vayda’ and make it safer and more accessible for both her and Owen.
“We are just making the bathroom and kitchen more user-friendly. It means many trips up and down the aisles at Bunnings which ‘Vayda’ helps me navigate, said Owen.
“I look down at her sometimes and ‘Vayda’ will give me this look like, ‘Bunnings? Again?’ I have to laugh.
“I am constantly surprised by just how much of a difference she has made to my life, said Owen.
Equally surprised have been members of the ballroom dance community. They credit ‘Vayda’ for helping to restore Owen’s confidence in himself and his sport after his diagnosis three years ago.
“With RP, my field of vision is getting smaller and smaller and I have lines that go through my vision. I didn’t give up on the sport but it was a big speed hump I needed to get over, said Owen.
“I would be in a dance routine and I would let go of Adine and grab the wrong partner, he said, laughing.
“I had to learn to balance again and concentrate more on the internal things rather than the visual cues.
“Now, even my ballroom dancing teacher has commented on how much better I am dancing after working with ‘Vayda’. I guess I’m just more relaxed. I have a lot to thank her [‘Vayda’] for.
You can help place another Guide Dog like ‘Vayda’ into the hands of a Queenslander in need with a modest donation. And if you give before June 30 your generosity could also help reduce your tax bill.
All donations $2 and over are tax deductible, and there is no upper limit on the size of the donation you can make. You have been a wonderful supporter of our work in the past, please help us once more.
Presently there are close to 15 people on our waiting list for a Guide Dog. Owen recalls fondly just how it felt to meet his potential ‘partner’ after receiving the anticipated call from Guide Dogs Queensland.
“When I first met ‘Vayda’ Guide Dogs Queensland was still assessing me to see if my lifestyle was suitable for a Guide Dog.
“I was telling myself not to get attached but it took one look from ‘Vayda’ and I was in love, he said.
Help us create another perfect match with a donation to Guide Dogs Queensland.
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