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Guide dog in-training welcomed to RAAF Base Edinburgh

written by Hannah Dowling | July 14, 2022

Gp Capt. Andrew Figtree with trainee guide dog ‘Roman’ on the Aircraft Research and Development Unit flight line at RAAF Base Edinburgh. Photo: Leading Aircraftman Stewart Gould

RAAF Base Edinburgh welcomed a furry visitor last month when golden retriever puppy Roman, a guide dog trainee, attended the Air Warfare Centre.

Roman was escorted by Group Captain Andrew Figtree, who is known to occasionally take in trainee guide dog puppies for the Royal Society for the Blind when educators are away from home.

“There are over three hundred volunteers across the RSB program. I’d encourage anyone to get involved as a volunteer, it’s a rewarding experience to see assistance dogs graduating and on their way to changing someone’s life for the better,” Group Captain Figtree said.

“My wife Teresa and I take Roman out to cafes, restaurants, grocery shopping, Bunnings, and lastly I bring him to work because I am keen to widen the spectrum of his experience. These experiences will only make him a better guide dog or assistance dog when he completes his training.”

Gp Capt. Figtree said that it’s “a bit different” when Roman comes to visit his work at the Air Warfare Centre, than it would be to visit other professions.

“I have to make sure he’s had a bit of exercise, water, and the toilet because he comes to meetings with me, he has to be patient and quiet,” he said.

Guide dog puppy educators will take in the dogs at nine weeks old and keep them for 12–18 months, before the dogs go on to complete full-time guide dog or assistance dog training.

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“This program started in 2013 and has seen a significant reduction in suicidal trends and helped their owners to better integrate into society and live a more complete life,” Gp Capt. Figtree said.

“I’d encourage anyone to get involved as a volunteer. It’s a rewarding experience to see guide dogs and assistance dogs graduating and on their way to changing someone’s life for the better.”

He explained the educators have to “tailor the experiences” they offer to their guide-dogs-in-training.

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“If you have an active dog, you can take the assistance dog puppies to Rundle Mall in the middle of the Christmas rush to help them learn to be calm and settled in a busy environment,” Gp Capt. Figtree said.

“It is important to introduce the dog to a wide range of scenarios as they offer support not only to blind or vision impaired persons, but also to veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as part of Op K9.”

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