Times of struggle always remind us what makes Guide Dogs so special – from the practical support they offer to people with low or no vision, to the comfort and companionship that is needed, now more than ever.
To mark International Guide Dog Day (29 April), we’ve spoken to Queensland’s youngest Guide Dog handler Brent Matthews to find out what makes his Guide Dog Jaycee so special to him.
At 23, Brent is the youngest person in Queensland with a Guide Dog. The last few years have been difficult – diagnosed with the rare genetic condition Stargardt’s disease, commonly referred to as the young person’s macular degeneration, when in Year 11.
Brent finished Year 12 while living at home with his family in Proserpine, before moving to Brisbane at the age of 18 to study at the University of Queensland (UQ).
“My vision was getting worse, but I guess I didn’t want to accept that or ask for help,” he recalled. “I was young, I had just moved out of home for the first time and moved from a small country town to the ‘big City’ – there were so many opportunities here, and I did not want to miss out on those.
“I guess you could say I was resistant to wanting help, or stubborn. But I am also a very independent person. I didn’t want to need help, I wanted to be able to do things on my own.”
In 2017, while still studying at UQ, Brent went blind in his left eye. A week later, his right eye followed. He is now legally blind, with only limited peripheral vision.
“I went to Guide Dogs about six months after I should have, to see what help they could provide. There was a lot of work to do – learning Braille and learning how to use a cane before I could even think about a Guide Dog.
The pyschologist helped me deal with my vision loss, and the orientation and mobility team helped me with the practical side of getting around.”
Just as he was preparing to finish studying, Guide Dogs had found Brent’s ‘perfect match’ – well, his second perfect match he jokes. Brent and Sunita Renouf began dating at the end of 2017 as Brent’s vision was changing rapidly. Together, they are now proud dog dad and mum to Jaycee the Guide Dog.
“I never realised how much was involved in matching the Guide Dog to the person, and matching the person to the Guide Dog,” Sunita explained. “But you can tell, even after eight months, that Brent and Jaycee are perfect for each other.”
Brent works in the Brisbane CBD and travels to and from his Mitchelton home every day.
“I wouldn’t be able to work in the CBD without Jaycee, that’s for sure,” he said.“My confidence has improved so much since having Jaycee by my side. I used to be so worried about going out in public, because there were quite a few times that I had caught the wrong bus, and I hated being anywhere busy like the CBD because I was worried I would run into someone or bump them with my cane.”
“I don’t worry at all about going out in public anymore. I know that Jaycee will help me navigate around any obstacles and keep me safe. She’s a wonderful Guide Dog who just loves to work and please. But at the end of the day, when the harness comes off, she loves to play and cuddle.
“Every night before I go to bed, I give Jaycee a pat and thank her for the day. She has changed my life so much, and I think back to life before her and I just couldn’t do any of the things I now do without her.
“She has changed everything. Not only does she give me the independence and confidence I had before I lost my vision, but she’s my best friend and companion who is always there with me.”
To read more stories like Brent’s click here.