FOR A former stressed student from Warwick, volunteering for Guide Dogs has proved a mental health saviour.
Harriet Pearce was at such a low ebb in 2017 that she struggled to leave the house.
She was three years into a PhD and Masters course in chemistry at Warwick University and she found herself overwhelmed by stress to the point it was making her ill.
She was forced to quit her university course and then she saw an advertisement for the Guide Dogs charity based in Leamington, calling for volunteers.
Harriet had always been intrigued about the Guide Dogs and then she met a local volunteer in a supermarket who convinced her to put her name forward.
She said: “I met Penny Hefferan, a Guide Dog owner who also works for Guide Dogs, with her dog, Questa, in Morrisons and she said ‘apply – just do it. We need you’. So I went home and thought right. Guide Dogs are here, I love what they do, I’m going to volunteer.”
In July 2019 she took delivery of her first foster puppy – eight-month-old yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever cross Belle, which she had for two weeks, followed in October by Broady, a 10-month-old black German Shepherd, then Laine, a four-month-old black Labrador/Golden Retriever cross.
The following month, Holden, a seven-week-old yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever cross, arrived – the first puppy she had to raise.
Harriet continued: “He was a loving, fun, but difficult dog. I had him for about a year – including all through lockdown. During lockdown, there was a period of time where he refused to walk on the lead, when walking the dog was all that we could do.
“As a puppy raiser you’ve got to expose the dog in a positive way to anything and everything that a future Guide Dog owner might come into contact with.
“So, when Holden was very young I carried him in my arms to the corner shop, we listened to traffic, I took him to the train station, onto the platform, into all the supermarkets, to the doctors – everything.
“Holden left us in October 2020, not long after his first birthday and it turned out that his behaviour had become perfect, so he went on to the next stage of training in which they go to the training school every day. I was sad that Holden wasn’t coming back but I also wanted him to succeed – and that was the best situation for him to succeed in.”
Holden qualified as a Guide Dog in November 2021, with owner Karl, who lives in East Anglia. Karl describes Holden as ‘the emperor of my independence’.
Harriet became a fundraiser in 2021 and she has also become a puppy socialiser, which involves going to the charity’s National Centre and playing with six to seven-week-old puppies before they go off to their puppy raisers.
And Harriet said that her experience with Guide Dogs has definitely helped with her mental health.
She added: “You get a really good bond with the dog. They’re in your home and you learn so much about them and what it really helped me with was a having a routine – getting up in the morning and having to take the dog to school and getting to see other volunteers and staff. It’s about being part of a community and that’s very helpful.”
To find out more about volunteering opportunities for Guide Dogs call 0345 143 0191 or visit guidedogs.org.uk/volunteer