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A truly special adventure

Your kind gift today will be the start of a new adventure for Queenslanders who are waiting for their perfect Guide Dog match.
Image of Sue and Venus sitting on the grass.

My name’s Sue. I’ve just celebrated my 70th birthday in style (it just flew by – but more on that later) with my husband Ron, my best friend Vegas, my family and a bunch of great friends by my side. I’m a mother, a grandmother, a wife and a trusted friend – and I’m also blind.

I lost my sight quite suddenly. It really was unexpected, and that miracle cure I thought was coming, just never came.

Before I lost my sight, my days were bright and filled with many adventures, like trekking and travelling overseas with Ron, raising our three wonderful children, and the joyous challenge of keeping-up with my 13 (yes, 13!) grandchildren. We really did it all.

There are so many stories I could share with you from those times, but today I wanted to write to you about where my latest adventure began, and about my best friend who’s always by my side – my Guide Dog Vegas.

Sue and Vegas

Thanks to your support, Vegas has given me the confidence to live life without limits and make the most of every day. It’s something I never could have imagined when my world first went dark.

For most of my life, I’d always had migraines. It wasn’t uncommon, so I learnt to live with them and didn’t think too much of it.

One day at work, my manager noticed my right eye was looking a bit odd – it was open wider and my eyebrow had risen like a look of surprise. Soon enough, I found myself in front of the doctor being diagnosed with something called Optic Neuritis.

My immune system had attacked the optic nerve, so my vision was beginning to change. While most of my sight was still there, my peripheral vision was getting hazy and wasn’t quite as clear as it used to be.

My doctor was sure my sight wouldn’t change much further and the condition wouldn’t affect my other eye. “That’s far too rare,” he told me.

But a year later and with the headaches continuing, I started feeling pain in my other eye. Knowing something wasn’t right, I went to see the doctor again.

“Don’t worry, it’s just migraines,” I was told.

But I knew it was more than that.

I woke up that night in excruciating pain. Ron rushed me to the Emergency Department where they found a haemorrhage behind my left eye.

Ultimately, I was in the hospital for two weeks, and within that time, I lost all vision in that eye.

There was simply nothing they could do to fix it.

My world had suddenly shrunk. From having reduced vision in my right eye, I was now also blind in my left. I wasn’t prepared for this at all.

Nobody in my family has bad vision and I didn’t know anyone who had gone through this before.

And beyond that, I wasn’t prepared to let go of all the things I would lose because my sight was failing me.

There had to be an answer – a cure.

I thought I was going to my next appointment for some great news. I waited for the doctor to tell me he could fix my eye and that everything would be okay.

But it wasn’t.

“Your tests have come back and unfortunately – it’s not good news,” the doctor said.

“The condition you have is permanent, and your sight won’t return in your left eye.”

But the bad news didn’t stop there.

“You won’t be able to drive again either,” he continued.

“You’ll need to hand in your licence. It’s just not safe with only your remaining vision and you don’t want to risk an accident.”

In that moment, reality hit me. I had been so determined to think positively. All I could think now was, “This can’t be happening to me”.

But now it was real – handing back my driver’s licence really confirmed that for me.

Image of Sue and Ron in the kitchen.

I loved to drive. Whether it was an adventurous overseas road trip, driving interstate to visit my son, or just heading down the road to have a cup of coffee with my mum, driving gave me the freedom to get around on my own.

And in that single moment, my freedom was gone.

After that, I stopped going out as much as I used to and I began to rely a lot on Ron and the rest of my family. To be honest, I don’t know what I would’ve done without them.

My family were there for me and knowing they always had my back meant more than I think they realised – it meant everything to me.

In fact, it was my son-in-law who encouraged me to reach out for help to Guide Dogs in the first place. This initial encouragement opened the door to finding the help I needed and was how I gained a whole new extended family of support, within the Guide Dogs’ community.

From that very first phone call to Guide Dogs, my whole world changed.

I faced new possibilities and a path back to the life of independence I cherished so much. This included discovering I could be a candidate for a Guide Dog.

But there was a long waitlist ahead. I was told in some cases it could take up to two years to find the right dog and at any one time there could be over 20 other people waiting for their dog too!

That’s why I need your support to help fund the training of another five Guide Dogs this tax season.

At a cost of $50,000 to train each dog, that’s $250,000 needed this tax time. And every dollar counts.

In my case, I was one of the lucky ones. About seven months after I added my name to the waitlist, I received the call I’d been eagerly waiting for.

I remember the moment so clearly. It was the 6th of October and when I answered, I heard the voice on the other end of the line say:

“I think I’ve got a dog for you. So… would you like to meet her?”

My excitement was uncontrollable! I loved her already, even before I’d met her. I loved that there was a dog out there that wanted to do the things I wanted to do and could give me back the freedom I craved.

This was a dog that could change my life.

Soon, the day arrived. Vegas came in and sat by my side.

Right from the first moment, there was a connection. It was like she had chosen me too. I knew there and then that it was a match meant to be.

For Vegas, taking on her new role in guiding me was a breeze. She was trained so well that she knew her job already, while I was the one who still had so much to learn.

All of a sudden, I felt like I was back on my “L plates”!

I’d come so far through my training with the Guide Dogs team to improve my navigation skills, my confidence around the house to do daily tasks, and even my independent travel down to the shops, but I knew I still had to learn to put my full trust in Vegas to make this new partnership a real success.

Thanks to your ongoing generosity and support, the team at Guide Dogs and my trainer Steve were there with me for every step, with the encouragement and training I needed to let Vegas take the lead. And it wasn’t too long before we were both in sync.

This intensive training at the start of our partnership was exactly what we needed to be a real team. And in the process, we even got to know each other’s quirks, personalities and needs.

For instance, Steve noticed that Vegas preferred to walk on smooth surfaces. Soon enough, he organised for Vegas to get her own pair of little doggy hiking boots, to help protect her paws when bushwalking or walking on rough surfaces. I knew Vegas felt a little bit wonky in them at first, but she soon learnt to love them and now happily wears them on our adventures.

With Vegas by my side, I know I can do it all. And best still, I can do it independently. I’ve really found my freedom again.

Quote by Sue

I know that Ron doesn’t worry either and has peace of mind knowing I’m safe with Vegas.

“I feel confident when you head out the front door with her,” Ron tells me now.

“I know she’s learnt the way to all the places you like to go, so it’s great to see you back to doing the things you want to do.”

Vegas and I now catch the train into Brisbane to visit friends, and she just loves a bushwalk or stroll along the beach with me.

Walking with Vegas really feels like flying. She effortlessly goes around obstacles and I glide along – just like walking normally when I had my vision.

I’m also back to trying new adventures with my family, which I love because I don’t want them to mollycoddle me. I just want to be who I always was, living the life I choose, without limits.

Vegas has given me back my life and the confidence I needed to really JUMP at new opportunities.

In fact, that’s what I did – quite literally – just recently!

To celebrate my 70th birthday in style a couple of months ago, I decided to jump out of a plane with my (human) best friend, my two daughters and six of my grandkids – just for the fun of it!

Of course, Vegas wasn’t right by my side for this particular adventure (I don’t think Steve would have been too keen on that one!), but she was still a big part of helping me prepare for my leap of faith.

Just as I learnt to trust Vegas to guide me through crowded shopping centres or to the busy bus stop down the street, I had to put my trust in Mitch, my skydiving instructor, to talk me through every step (and leap) to guide me safely to the ground.

In both experiences, I found a profound sense of surrendering control and embracing the expert guidance of another. However, I suspect both Ron and Vegas were much less enthusiastic about me placing my trust in someone like Mitch whose chosen career involves falling from the sky on a daily basis, compared to my usual loyal and reliable four-legged companion.

Well soon enough, the day was here, and I leapt into my 70s with style! And I’m pleased to say that I’m still here today to share the story.

Now unlike most dogs, a Guide Dog like Vegas has been trained to look up, above their normal line of sight, so she can keep an eye out for overhead obstacles like tree branches that might be in our path. So, I can only imagine what she would have been thinking when she looked up and saw me floating back to earth!

As soon as my feet hit the ground and my family and friends began cheering, Vegas’ tail nearly wagged off with excitement. I think she was pretty glad to see I was safe.

“I was hoping in retirement things would slow down,” Ron laughed.

“I pictured a peaceful, relaxing time, but you’re still a bit of a rebel who certainly keeps me and Vegas on our toes. I always wonder what you’ve got planned next!”

Image of Sue and Venus sitting on the grass.

There are over 20 people at the stage I was at not that long ago, waiting patiently for their next adventure to start. Your special gift today could be the start of their journey to finding their own perfect guiding companion, just like my Guide Dog Vegas.

Please show your support to make a difference for them today.

I know without wonderful people like you, I wouldn’t have my Vegas and my life just wouldn’t be the same. So, I’d like to finish with a thank you, for everything you’ve done for me and for those you’ll go on to help with your support today.