Sheba leads way to independence

Dapto resident Samantha Noonan has a new lease on life thanks to her guide dog Sheba.

After using a cane for many years, Mrs Noonan decided to apply for a guide dog to boost her self-confidence.

Mrs Noonan, who has been blind since birth, spoke of her new-found independence in Wollongong's Crown Street Mall yesterday, at a display promoting the work of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.

"I can also walk a lot faster than with a cane," she said.

The mother of two spent 11 months on a waiting list, then six weeks training and finally welcomed Sheba into the family 10 weeks ago.

At present, 30 people across NSW and the ACT are on the waiting list for a guide dog.

It costs $30,000 to raise and train each guide dog, and the organisation relies on community support.

A spokesman said Guide Dogs was looking for Illawarra residents to form a fund-raising support group to help the organisation keep up with demand for its free services for people who are blind or vision-impaired.

Mrs Noonan said people were now a lot friendlier when she travelled to Sydney for work at Vision Australia.

"I walk to Dapto station, then catch a train to Hurstville, bus over to Enfield and another short walk to work, so she helps me with that," she said.

"I don't feel quite so self-conscious asking people for help when there's a dog there, because we've already struck up a bit of an ice-breaking conversation anyway."

Sheba has made things easier for the family, despite being distracting at times, Mrs Noonan's 14-year-old daughter Rylie said.

"Mum's not worried about when she goes out any more," she said.

People interested in volunteering with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT are invited to call community liaison officer Simon Whelan on (02) 9412 9362.

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