Rochester – the last post!

IMG_3654This week has been an exciting one for us and for Rochester, because he has reached the end of his training! In the next few weeks the staff at GuideDogs will match him with a prospective owner.

 IMG_3660When a trainee dog reaches this stage the puppy walkers are invited to see him work and meet up with him for one last time. We last saw Rochester in February, so the prospect of seeing him again was very exciting and quite emotional.

 Before seeing him work we met up with his trainer Catherine for a coffee to hear how he has got on in the last few months. He is still the friendly, bright  well mannered dog we knew and loved. In addition he is now a steady and reliable working dog.

 IMG_3654Next we went off to north London to see him working. To avoid distracting him whilst he’s working we had to try and follow at a discreet distance. Catherine noticed that Rochester was sniffing the air more than normal and thought he probably knew we were around!! Watching him work in the busy, noisy streets was amazing. He was completely unmoved by traffic, road works, sirens, other dogs and the crowds of suburban London. He was totally focussed on Catherine and on guiding her through all the buzz and crowds.

 IMG_3687We ended up in a park where Rochester was relieved of his harness and allowed to have a free run. This was also our moment to stop hiding and come and say hello!

 Having seen him as a 6 week old puppy it was a very proud moment to see him now; A happy, confident and capable dog.

 And this is where our relationship with Rochester ends and PuppywithaPurpose signs off. So good luck Mr. Rochester, thank you for sharing the first 18months of your life with us.IMG_3739

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Meet Mr. Rochester!

Rochester is approaching the final weeks of his second stage training at the Guide Dog Support Unit. If all goes well he will embark on the final part of his training in the next few weeks.

In the meantime Rochester will be accompanying his trainer Kat at the annual Guide Dog fun day at Redbridge in North East London. This annual event is a chance to come and meet our future guide dogs, visit the kennels and  find out about the work Guide Dogs do.  It is on Saturday 15th June from 11am – 5pm. Admission is £1.50, children go free. Please note, pet dogs are not allowed on the site.

Me and my friend Pip

Me and my friend Pip

Making himself comfortable during a sleepover at Kat's house!

Making himself comfortable during a sleepover at Kat’s house!

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Rochester Update

Rochester at redbridge_1Well it’s been a couple of months since Mr. R. left us to move onto the next stage of his training. He is now at the Redbridge Guide-Dog school where he has settled in very nicely. Guide-Dogs are great at keeping their volunteers up to date with the progress of puppies, so we were thrilled to have had a couple of phone calls from his trainer Kat and also a “I’ve arrived” picture.

At the Expo

At the school the dogs are kennelled with one or two other trainee’s; Rochester was apparently thrilled to be rooming with Ivy and Betty who are his new Best Friends Forever (BFF!).  One of the new things the dogs are soon introduced to is the harness. He has taken to it well and as you can see from the photographs.

You may also notice he looks a little thinner! He was carrying a few extra pounds when he left us! but a combination of a new diet, lots of exercise and the company of other dogs seems to have had a beneficial effect.

IMG_0020_1We are very grateful to Blog follower Jennifer Drake who met Rochester when he was working on the Guide-Dog stand  at the London Marathon Expo. It was wonderful to hear how he was and see the great pictures. So many thanks Jennifer!


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Mr. Rochester has left the building

Every puppy-walker knows that roughly 12 months after taking delivery of an oh-so-cute puppy you have to hand it back … and yesterday was the day Rochester left us for Guide-Dog school. The most frequent question we are asked as puppy-walkers is “How can you give him back”? The obvious answer is, “well, he isn’t my dog”! However the real answer is; it’s a very emotional day. A mix of sadness that this lovely, friendly , well behaved (mostly) dog is no longer around but also a real sense of pride in seeing him graduate onto the next stage of his training.

The next stage is 4 months at Guide-dog school in Redbridge. Rochester travelled up with his friends Isca and Ivy and will be sharing a room with Ivy. Each day he will have two training walks and two free runs plus time in the “environmental play area”.

So to finish off this final blog piece we are enclosing a selection of pictures from Rochester’s time with us.


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Mr. Rochester ….swoon!

In 2009 Mills & Boon and The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival hosted a poll to decide the nation’s favourite literary hero. Could it be the wild and mysterious Heathcliff? What about the debonair charm of Rupert Campbell Black? Or maybe the quiet intensity of Captain Corelli? ….. Well they all lost in favour of our very own Mr.Rochester! Yes the hero of Jane Eyre and namesake of Guide Dog puppy Rochester won the prize.

A completely non scientific poll gathered the following words to describe Mr. Rochester –  Deceitful, self-centred, spoilt, awkward, passionate, tormented, handsome, driven, charismatic, brooding. So as the following pictures illustrate; they don’t all apply to our own Mr. R. !

At Romance HQ!

Never one to miss an opportunity for attention Rochester recently had the opportunity to visit the head office of Mills & Boon or as it’s better known; Romance HQ!

Rochester enjoyed being told how handsome he was, how driven to be a successful dog he was, how all rumours of awkwardness were untrue and that since his visit to the vet all opportunity for “brooding” was out of the question.

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Guide Dogs Calendar 2013

Regular Blog readers may remember that back in April Rochester and his Guide Dogs friends posed for a calendar. Well it’s now available for you to buy. Each month features two of Rochester’s pals and there is plenty of room to make a note of important dates.

The calendar costs £5 and is available throughout Swindon and the surrounding area. For a full list of local stockists check the local Swindon GuideDog facebook page.  All proceeds go to Guide Dogs.

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At the home of Cricket


This week saw Rochester adding another new and exciting situation to his ever lengthening list of “training experiences”! Monday 20th August was the final day of the third and final test match between England and South Africa and Rochester travelled to London to see it live.

Lords Cricket ground in London is known as “the home of cricket” and is hallowed turf to players and fans alike.  The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was founded in 1787 and has been the custodian of the laws and spirit of cricket ever since. Visiting the ground is always an exciting event, Rochester was thrilled to be admitted as only working dogs are allowed entry.

The match itself was set up for a very tense and thrilling finish, England requiring over 300 runs to win, South Africa needing 8 wickets to win. Every run scored and wicket taken was greeted by huge roars from the crowd which kept Rochester on his toes. Or to be more accurate he was so bothered by it all that he slept through most of the action! Even the passage of a Mexican Wave through the stands didn’t bother him. He was mister cool and relaxed!

Despite the history of the club the ground itself is a very modern sporting venue holding up to 30,000 people. Although not full on our visit, this was the busiest, most congested place Rochester has had to work. There were crowds around the ground, crowds getting to our seat and crowds of people all around, all of the time.  A very full on experience for a 10 month old dog.  As always seems to be the case, when you throw a new experience at Rochester he rises to the challenge admirably.  Rochester’s head is 2 feet from the ground, so in a busy crowd of adults he could feel quite claustrophobic and intimidated, but he didn’t seem affected.  He plodded through the gaps and waited when there was nowhere to go.

Rochester and I were made very welcome by the Lords staff and the public, so a big thank you to them. One question we were asked a few times was, “why would a blind person come to a visual game”?  I think this question is better answered by Peter White; journalist, cricket fan and blind since birth. He has written an excellent article that you can read here.

A vital addition to the enjoyment of cricket is the radio programme Test Match Special. Rochester was thrilled to get some advice from TMS cricket dog Bracken who tweeted the following advice “go for catching practice on that big green field, they won’t mind”!!! It was tempting, particularly when the ball came straight towards us!

Rochester’s trip wasn’t an entirely altruistic act as his puppy walker is a keen cricket fan! But learning how to cope with crowds, noise and constant activity is all part of his training,  so hopefully we both got something out of the trip!


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Rochester’s Travels – Part2

So what does a guide dog puppy do when he as 3 days to spend in Edinburgh? Well, he works and rests and plays!

There were various work challenges for Rochester. First of all it’s a new place with no familiar shops, parks or people. Fortunately one thing that was familiar was the buses run by Lothian Buses. Identical in every way to Swindon buses, except for the tartan! So Rochester was able to head straight for his favourite spot by the window. Like many public transport companies Lothian buses offer free travel to guide dog puppies and we were welcomed like old friends!

Edinburgh is a city built on hills which includes some very long and quite steep sets of steps. Rochester has been gradually getting better at taking steps slowly and these provided quite a challenge. One particularly challenging set was underground! The spooky Real Mary Kings Close is a 17th century lane that has been built on over the years; but all the stairs and houses remain, deep below the ground. The tour sounded interesting, so Rochester came too!

Me with a stunt pigeon at the museum of Scotland

There’s also a lot of culture to take in, historic buildings and museums. The Museum of Scotland was very interesting and also a convenient shelter from the incessant rain! It seemed every school child in Edinburgh was also visiting, so Rochester had to cope with hundreds of shrieking, active children running around all over the place.

Me with Greyfriars Bobbie!

Rochester couldn’t visit Edinburgh with paying homage at the grave of Greyfriars Bobby. This is a dog who faithfully visited his master’s grave for years after his death. He has both a grave and a statue! Rochester posed for pictures but put off one tour guide who felt she couldn’t tell the story with a live dog standing next to the grave!!

It wasn’t all work, so on the final day Rochester had a free run up the impressive Edinburgh hill, Arthurs Seat. This is the first big hill he has walked and hadn’t cottoned on to the idea of “pacing himself”.  Consequently he was well and truly exhausted by the time we got back to base.

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Rochester’s travels – part1

Puppywithapurpose has been offline for a few weeks because Rochester has been away on a trip so today is part1 of his holiday diary. Rochester has been in cars, walked, travelled by bus and train but usually the main purpose has been a training walk. Going on holiday has been his first chance to put it all together in a sustained week of “working”. Phew! And he’s still only 9 months old!

His adventure began with a long journey; longer than anything he has tackled before. The trip from Swindon to Edinburgh by public transport would be a test of his patience and his skills as a trainee Guide Dog. The day began with a free run at 5.30am to give him a chance to stretch his legs ahead of a lot of sitting around; although he didn’t know it yet! Then a bit of breakfast for both us before getting a lift to the bus stop. Rochester likes the bus and jumped on with great alacrity and headed to his favourite place by the window.

Next up was a train journey from Swindon to Cheltenham; again all familiar territory for him. Usually after a training walk like this he would be expecting to be back home and asleep. But instead we found another train, this time to Manchester. He settled down under my seat and fell asleep. Unfortunately he stretched out to much leaving his tail in the isle and unfortunately getting it run over by an unobservant traveller!

Me at an “attraction” in Manchester

Manchester was busy! Certainly the busiest place he has been to so far. Lots of crowds, noise, traffic and distractions – all of which he took in his stride. Oh and rain; lots of rain! I had found a nice picnic spot where we could have our lunch and he could stretch his legs, but unfortunately it was under water so we had our walk in the rain and our lunch at the station!

By now it was 2pm and out final leg awaited us, a 4hour train trip to Edinburgh. So on top of his longest day out so far he had his longest train trip! Once again he got his head down and so did I! The train was delayed for an hour, which caused much grumbling and fractiousness from our fellow travellers …. But Rochester; well I’m sure you can guess; he slept!!

Is it all over yet?

We finally pulled into Edinburgh 12 hours after setting off from Swindon. A real test of his guide dog character that I’m pleased to say he passed with flying colours!

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It’s all in the breeding…

 Todays blog is not about Rochester, but it is about him and the other 1099 puppies that Guide Dogs deliver every year. Here are a few statistics to consider. In 2010 Guide dogs were responsible for over 8000 dogs!

  • 300 guide dog mums and dads who provide the next generation of puppies
  • 1100 in puppy walking
  • 550 dogs in guide dog advanced training
  • 4,500 working in partnership with a blind or partially sighted person
  • 1,500 enjoying their retirement

    We are here to guide you!

Yesterday we visited the guide dog facility responsible for organising this massive effort; the brand new National Breeding Centre near Leamington Spa. Along with several of the other puppy walkers in Swindon we were given a guide tour of the centre. This must be the only guided tour where you are guided not just by people, but also by dogs! As well as several volunteer guides we were accompanied by some of the breeding dogs and bitches; all of whom live in volunteers homes close to the centre.

The best volunteer job EVER … playing with puppies!

The centre has been purpose built to meet the needs of dogs! So all the living areas have in and outdoor runs, natural light and contact with the other dogs staying at the centre. As with every facet of guide dogs, volunteers play an important role supporting the work of the salaried staff. Guide dogs currently has over 10,000 volunteers in over 50 different roles

  • over 9000 volunteers work with dogs in roles such as boarders, brood bitch and stud dog holders, kennel assistants, puppy socialisers and puppy walkers
  • over 2,600 people regularly help in fundraising
  • the 10,000 volunteers perform over £28million worth of work a year
  • around 38% of volunteers donate 20 hours or more per week

    I helped, come and meet me!

So if you want to get involved there are lots of opportunities all over the country. visit the guide dog volunteer website to find out more. You can also visit the centre, you don’t have to work for guide dogs. Just contact the  visitor services team at for a tour you will never forget.

I’m exhausted, can I go home now?

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