My chapter book for younger readers, Alby and the Cat, came out in 2008. Published by The Five Mile Press, it was part of four chapter books they released that year for their Ripper Reads series. I wrote the story because my dad was blinded in an industrial accident and had a guide dog for 13 years. His name was Duke, and he was a beautiful black Labrador, who became not only dad's sighted guide, but a loyal and loving companion as well. It was rare not to see them together, and when they were together, the bond they had was amazing. The two of them just clicked, which is the aim of organisations like Guide Dogs, who do a great job of matching visually impaired people with the dogs that are to be their eyes.
It is easy to underestimate the fantastic job that guide dogs do. A blind person has to put their faith completely in the dog leading them - at traffic lights, when crossing at pedestrian crossings, when alighting public transport - in so many different and potentially dangerous situations. There has to be complete trust in each other, because lack of confidence, especially in some of the situations they are faced with, could prove life-threatening.
I saw Duke in action many times leading Dad, and each and every time I marvelled at how he did what he did. Then, at the end of the day, when his duties were done, Dad would take off his harness and he would revert to being a pet, happiest laying at Dad's feet.
When guide dogs are out of harness, and not in work mode, people can pat them and make a fuss of them all they like. It's when they're in harness that they can't be distracted. As cute and loveable, and as receptive as Labradors are to people, guide dogs are different, and have to be treated as such.
That's why I wrote Alby and the Cat. I wanted to write a story so that people, especially children, had more of an idea of what guide dogs do, and how important they are in the life of a visually impaired person. After his accident, Dad retrained as a clinical masseur, and now has a successful business in Traralgon. But he wouldn't be the confident, self-assured and independent person he is today without Duke, who died from bone cancer at age 13. Dad refused to have another guide dog after that, because he didn't want to have to go through losing another dog in his life-time. He has used a cane ever since.
Check out the review of Alby and the Cat at: http://kids-book-review.blogspot.com/2010/05/review-alby-and-cat.html