Guide Dogs Australia received the award as part of the Reader’s Digest Trusted Brands survey. Cancer Council Australia and the RSPCA were highly commended in the charity category, which was added in 2013.
“At a time where many areas of society are being questioned for their transparency, it’s a reminder of the value of trust and reliability, especially in our industry,” says Guide Dogs Victoria CEO Karen Hayes. “To be named Most Trusted Charity for the sixth year in a row is a testament to the integrity of the work our team has done for the community on a consistent basis.”
As Australians’ trust continues to decline across out institutions – media, business, government and NGOs – Karen says there are no “magic bullets” to establishing trust.
“There are three fundamentals we as an organisation believe are vital: authenticity, consistency and transparency. Trust is at the heart of everything we do, especially between a person with blindness or low vision and their guide gog. This trust extends to the community, who love to see our iconic guide dogs out and about with their handlers. We frequently hear from locals who have spotted a working dog – it’s a rare opportunity for people to see a cause they support in action,” she says.
“Every day, 28 Australians are diagnosed with sight loss, including nine who become blind, and without the ongoing trust and support of the community, we would not be able to continue our important work.”
For how trust is central to the relationship between guide dog and handler, look no further than Victorian client Dorothy Docherty, who lost her vision suddenly at age 49. One night Dorothy went to bed with a severe headache not realising she was suffering a condition that caused inflammation of the brain. Not only did Dorothy lose her sight, but she had to learn to walk and talk again.
Now more than a decade later, Dorothy is enjoying her independence with of guide dog named Anya by her side.
“Before I met my first guide dog, I didn’t have the courage to leave the house. I wholeheartedly trust that Anya can guide me safely from A to B – there was a time where I gave her the command to move forward to cross a busy intersection – the crossing ‘beeps’ told me it was safe but Anya refused the command and physically blocked my path. I am incredibly thankful she didn’t obey me, because a large truck ran the red light. I wouldn’t be here today without her,” says Dorothy.
Guide dogs also fulfill a deeper role in their handlers’ lives. “Guide dogs are so much more than navigation dogs. Many of us think of a guide dog as a Labrador in harness guiding the handler to a destination, but these dogs also provide a real sense of security, companionship and confidence that cannot be matched,” says Karen.
But before a young labrador can be trained to become a guide dog, it will need the services of volunteer ‘Puppy Raiser’ who will take care of the pup for the first year of its life.
“Guide Dogs Australia is desperate for more Puppy Raiser applications, with around 200 puppies currently looking for homes across the country,” says Karen. “Our Puppy Raisers are integral to the services and support we offer people with low vision or blindness, by helping to raise our trusted guide dogs for the first 12 months of their lives.”
Karen is often asked how people can bear to give back a puppy but her answer is powerful: “You’re not giving them back, you’re giving them forward. Enabling them to go on and change someone’s life, that’s something to be proud of.”
There are over 450,000 people in Australia with low vision or blindness, and the number of individuals requiring guide dogs are set to double by the year 2020. For more information visit the Guide Dogs Australia website.
The Reader’s Digest Trusted Brands survey was independently conducted by Roy Morgan Research and included a cross-section of 2,450 Australians. The survey has been conducted annually for 18 years, with the charity category included from 2013.