Seeing eye dog pups
Seeing eye dogs start training very young, as this litter of cute future helpers shows. Image by HANDOUT/PETBARN SEEING EYE DOG APPEAL
  • animal

Push to shrink waiting list for seeing eye dog helpers

Bray Boland July 7, 2024

Imagine walking to the busiest road near your home and crossing it blindfolded.

Using touch and sound as tools to negotiate the dangers, cars whiz past and the electric ones don’t make themselves heard until they’re too close for comfort.

These challenges were part of a normal day for Nick Gleeson, who was left blind by a sudden accident as a seven-year-old.

He’s one of an increasing number of blind and low-vision Australians faced with daily hazardous obstacles, but he doesn’t let it get the better of him.

“I had wonderful parents who encouraged me to get on with my life and to be as independent as possible but also to reach out for support when needed,” Mr Gleeson told AAP.

“And to understand that life is very much about partnerships.”

Two of those partnerships arrived after Nick turned 49.

After negotiating the world with a cane, Nick opened himself up to the support and companionship of a seeing eye dog.

“I never thought I would have a dog, I thought I’d just use a long cane,” he said.

“And I met him, I just thought, if I could have this dog, this, this will be fantastic.”

Nick Gleeson and his seeing eye dog Unity
 The world opened up for Nick Gleeson after he teamed up with his seeing eye dog Unity. Image by HANDOUT/PETBARN SEEING EYE DOG APPEAL 

These highly-drilled pups become invaluable assets for vision impaired Australians.

Each animal is carefully moulded into a one-dog army with world-class training complemented by the selected breeds’ innate good nature.

The bond between Nick and his first dog, Unity, would become so strong the pair would later successfully cross eight rivers during a winter adventure in New Zealand.

The same training that gives the dogs the confidence to deal with extreme circumstances like rivers also produces an alertness that saves lives in everyday situations.

During a walk home one evening, Unity saved Nick from being hit by a car pulling into a driveway, by stopping suddenly and holding the pair up as the wind off the vehicle brushed them.

“He’s picking the right time for me to cross, and, more importantly, when not to cross,” Nick said.

“I can have that extra trust that he’s looking out for me.”

Nick is undoubtedly fortunate to have had Unity as a companion, but the waiting list for seeing eye dogs to assist other vision impaired Australians is increasing.

Vision Australia estimates there are currently just under half a million blind or low-vision Australians and that number is expected to jump by 25 per cent by 2030.

It costs $50,000 to breed and train each labrador and golden retriever pup that becomes a seeing eye dog and the program can stretch up to two years.

The training is completely funded by donations.

In partnership with Vision Australia, the Petbarn Foundation Annual Seeing Eye Dogs Appeal recently launched its 11th initiative to Train up a Pup for low-vision and blind Australians like Nick.

Petbarn Foundation manager Janelle Bloxsom told AAP this year’s goal is to raise $1 million to train 20 dogs.

“It’s the support of people in the community, who donate to the Petbarn Foundation to raise funds, that helps even more puppies be trained up,” she says.

“The Seeing Eye Dogs Vision Australia trainers are the highest, best-qualified trainers in Australia, if not the world.”

Without the initiative, Nick would still be crossing busy roads on his own and would have never known that Unity would become part of his family.

An adult and puppy seeing eye dog.
 The cost of breeding and training each labrador and golden retriever pup is as much as ,000. Image by HANDOUT/PETBARN SEEING EYE DOG APPEAL 

“They’re not a machine,” he said.

“They’re warm, they give love, they give companionship.”

Unity supported Nick until retiring at 14.

Nick’s new companion, Jarvis, joined the family and the two dogs shared a bed for the last six months of Unity’s life.

“It was so amazing how Jarvis gave huge respect to Unity, his senior,” Nick said.

“And it was lovely for me to think that they met and they related.

“I’d like to think that Unity passed on some of the things that are good about me and maybe some secrets about me.”

For more information about the Petbarn Foundation appeal visit any Petbarn store across Australia, or go to the website at