Blind campaigner faces 18-month wait for replacement guide dog because of national shortage

  • Callum Fairhurst spoke to Jill Allen-King for ITV News Anglia

A blind campaigner fears she will lose her independence when her guide dog retires next month - and may have to wait 18 months for a replacement.

Jill Allen-King, 86, may be left without her crucial companion because of an enduring shortage of trained animals since the coronavirus pandemic.

Mrs Allen-King had one of her eyes removed as a baby due to measles and lost her sight fully aged 24, on her wedding day, due to glaucoma.

She has had seven guide dogs in the last 51 years and relies on them both when she is out of the house, and at home in Westcliff.

After nine years, her current dog, Jagger, will be retired in June.

She said: "When you've been independent for so long and then you haven't got a replacement dog, it's so bad.

"It's going to be so difficult and I'm not looking forward to it at all.

"He's my best friend and he's just the comfort that I need and gives me the independence to go out and about and I just don't know what it would be like without him."

Although Jagger can stay with Mrs Allen-King when he retires, he will no longer be allowed to formally "work" as a guide dog.

Jill Allen-King and her dog, Jagger Credit: ITV News Anglia

According to the charity Guide Dogs, dogs usually retire when they are between nine and 11 years of age.

From the age of eight, the dogs are monitored by the charity to ensure they are still fit - and willing - to work.

Mrs Allen-King is calling on the government to do more to tackle the shortage, which has left more than 1,000 people on a waiting list for a guide dog.

She said that as long as a dog is happy and healthy, they should be able to continue to work.

The coronavirus pandemic from 2020 meant that breeding the dogs had to be paused, and training was difficult due to the closure of restaurants and other public spaces.

Peter Osborne, the charity's chief operating officer, said: "We have over 1,000 people waiting for a guide dog in the UK at the moment.

"Covid has dealt us a real difficult hand over the past few years.

"Dogs that are qualifying as partners now were actually raised over two years ago and it's hard to imagine what times were like then.

"We're continuing to breed more dogs and training more dogs going forward."

This week, Mrs Allen-King met ministers to try to address the problem.

Jill Allen-King with her MP Anna Firth Credit: ITV News Anglia

Southend West MP Anna Firth said: "This is something we've all got to crack.

"We all want to get these waiting lists down. Guide Dogs have made a lot of progress - they've got 600 dogs in the country - but there's 1,000 people waiting.

"What we're doing it exploring every possible avenue to close that gap and to bridge that time, so there isn't this cliff-edge where people are just left stranded."

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