Story & photos Eve Jeffery
People say the strangest things to Hastings Point resident Bev Larsson.
‘Better to be blind than deaf’ is a common one. She had one person say, ‘Oh if that happened to me, I would kill myself’. Humans can be so insensitive. Luckily Bev has a wonderful animal guide in her life.
Bev and her husband Barry were in Indonesia building a bungalow for a family to rent to tourists as an income, on a tropical island just off Aceh. Bev says she felt ill and went to lie down. She woke up two days later completely blind. ‘I was black blind’, says Bev. ‘I couldn’t see a damned thing. I’d had a voracious thirst when I fell ill. I couldn’t satiate it and I drank and drank. That’s probably what saved me. Some type of toxin entered my body and it attacked my optic nerves, but the toxicology report came up with nothing. It is still an absolute mystery. Whatever it was I must have flushed it out. I guess I am lucky to be here.’
Afterwards Bev’s vision returned to a point that she could read and she had hoped that it would return completely, but things went pear shaped again and her sight deteriorated to the point where her vision is now which is pretty much cloudy nothing in the centre and a vague clarity at the periphery.
Getting to know Henry
Bev says that people don’t always understand that her guide dog is different from a pet. When he has his harness on he is working. He has had stringent training become a guardian for Bev and when he is on the job, that is what he is focussing on. But Bev says some humans can’t resist.
‘Henry is such a good looking animal, he is gorgeous. I often hear “Oh aren’t you gorgeous”, and I say “Thank you, what about the dog?” and some people say, “I didn’t mean you” and other people say, “Oh you are too”, laughs Bev. ‘I’ve never been called gorgeous so often since I had him.’
Bev says that apart from being so handsome he has qualities that make him loveable on many levels.
‘He has got a beautiful personality’, says Bev. ‘He has a lovely temperament, he’s thoughtful, kind, considerate and he’s bright. He really looks after me. He displays what they term ‘intelligent disobedience’. For example he might “say”, “No it’s not a good idea to go this way. Come on. Let me lead you”, and he will steer me around an obstacle.’
Henry is just about four, he and Bev were paired when he was just 17 months old.
‘He had twelve months with the puppy raisers – families volunteer to look after the dogs for the first 12 months. In that time they have basic training, supported by Guide Dogs. They learn to socialise, they don’t get table scraps, they are not allowed to act out and chew into things and they are disciplined. Then there is five months intensive training at the guide dogs kennels. When he was ready, I was flown down to Sydney and Henry and I had about 16 nights together in a motel room. It was for me, basically, to be trained to work with him.’
It wasn’t all smooth sailing when she first met Henry. It took a bit of getting used to. She says that although he was ready, she needed to be brought up to speed and then they had to get used to each other’s personalities.
Bev had lost her vision two years before she was paired with Henry. In between that time and when she went to Sydney, with one thing and another, she was finding things pretty tough.
‘It was like a prison sentence. I thought, “What did I do to deserve this?”’
Bev says that she has misgivings at first with her sighted helper.
‘For the first four nights in the motel room, I thought “What have I done?”’
Bev says she feared the responsibility of looking after Henry when she was flat out looking after herself. But over the days, human and K9 got to know each other and now they are just about inseparable.
‘It’s like the beginning of something’, says Bev. ‘We built on what we started with. His understanding of my vocabulary is amazing. Just the other day I was wondering if he could crawl. I said to him, “Henry. Sit. Drop. Crawl”, and I motioned with my hand and he did it!’ Recently I was out in the parklands and I needed to wash my feel. I said to him, “Henry find me a tap”, and he did.’
‘I felt completely hopeless’, says Bev. ‘I felt like I was a drain on society. Quite useless. Then, along came Henry’ – and that is the title of the book she has written.
Beautifully illustrated by Nettie Lodge and co-written by Marybeth Gunrum, Along Came Henry is an entertaining and colourful as well as informative in regards to how the public can treat guide dogs. Bev has a background managing child and family health services so she is knowledgeable about children in the age group the book is aimed at.
The book is ready to go and will be a wonderful addition to any school and community library, all it needs now is to be published – Bev would love to hear expressions of interest from anyone wanting to help her get the book printed.
Bev has already told the story in schools and other gatherings and is wanting to spread the news about the great work that Guide Dogs do to help people like herself regain some freedom in their life. ‘I really want to give back to Guide Dogs’, says Bev. ‘They have been fantastic.’
For more information about Bev and the book, visit: http://guidedogs.com.au/home