A guide dog leading a blind male across the road

Guide dogs – a source of vital wellbeing support

Published: 24/04/24 | Categories: Information & support, Author: Nathan Foy

This International Guide Dogs Day, Nathan Foy, Project Manager at Guide Dogs Cymru, reveals how the death of his guide dog Mason affected him as a parent and how new guide dog Joey changed everything.


I am blind and a parent to two young children. I had my first guide dog when I was a teenager, and from day one I have asked all my guide dogs to do a huge variety of things, including help me parent.

Covid affected us all in different ways and during this time, my guide dog Mason fell seriously ill and died. Guide Dogs could not train partnerships at their usual rate, and there were 1,000 extra people already waiting for a match.

The next two years were tough in ways I struggle to explain to people who have not felt the life-giving touch of a guide dog partner. My long cane is certainly trusty,  it’s saved my life more than once, and helped me dodge more visits to A&E than I can count. But a big part of the picture was missing.

Man stands on pavement outside with guide dog

Nathan out on a walk with Joey


I found it tough waiting for a new dog, although I had support from the local Guide Dogs Cymru team. My world around me shrank, so I only did things I felt were manageable. The restrictions also meant I could not be the parent I wanted to be, and that was hard for me to deal with.

At times I relied on my children to supply sighted support, and even declined to do something if I did not have them with me. Without my wife and her endless support (as well as her lovely eyesight and comfy car!) I would not have been able to function.

When you lose your guide dog partner in tragic circumstances, and your life becomes much smaller and more restricted, you inevitably grieve for who and what you have lost. I had a recurring dream about all the cars parked on the pavements near my house that I kept walking into with my long cane. In real life these collisions were really draining me, bringing anger to the surface. This is another hazard that a guide dog partner will help you avoid. I began wondering whether, if strongman Geoff Capes were blind, would he just tip the cars over and out of his way?

For two years I was in a trough, but just before Christmas I started to rise from the depths. I was matched with Joey, a puppy barely 18 months old. I am grateful to the volunteers who raised and fostered him, laying the foundations of the calm and relaxed dog he would become.


With two of my previous guide dogs, I needed two ‘test’ walks to be sure they were right for me, but not with Joey. I swear that within 400 metres I just knew it was going to work. I knew I could trust my life to this puppy. We had a second walk, which was much longer with additional street challenges and a route I would do when walking to our office. When Joey spent his first night with us, it was a challenge for my children to remember not to cuddle him too tightly! Not all Christmas gifts come with wrapping paper.

Two children and a man sit on a lounge floor with a guide dog

Nathan, Joey and the family

When you first start working with a new guide dog, you speak different languages. You need to learn to communicate with your body movement and that takes time, repetition, dedication and determination. Trainer Emily expertly conducted us through those first few weeks until we reached a standard to qualify and become street legal.

The difference I felt was immediate. I had spent two tough years with an identity crisis, a guide dog owner without a guide dog. It was like a scene from a film where someone is injected straight in the heart with adrenaline. I qualified just before half term school holidays and spent the first 10 days doing whatever I wanted with my family, restrictions all lifted. I was back to living actively, cramming as many fun activities into half term as I could.

Once I was back to work, the school runs and a normal routine, I realised I was now living independently again. It feels like I have been working with Joey for years, not weeks. I can do what I need to at home, work and leisure. I am still wondering, though, would a blind Geoff Capes tip over cars parked on the pavements…?


For further information, please visit Guide Dogs Cymru.