LIZZIE Wiscombe has become the first person in Lyme Regis to qualify to have a Guide Dog.
Lizzie, who has struggled with her eyesight her entire life having been born as a severely premature twin, moved back to her hometown Lyme Regis three years ago following a career in nursing.
She was then told she would only be able to walk within a few metres of her house without assistance because of her deteriorating sight, but now her life has completely changed thanks to Guide Dog Healey.
Lizzie campaigned for three years to get a Guide Dog, having originally been told Lyme Regis was too unsafe.
She went to Southampton to spend a day with a Guide Dog in May 2017 and met a trainer who was familiar with Lyme Regis and agreed to a home visit, which was carried out in August.
It was eventually decided that if a dog could be found that could cope with large crowds in the summer and Lyme’s narrow pavements, they could be trained to help Lizzie on set routes around the town.
Lizzie was first introduced to her dog Healey just before Christmas.
“My first reaction was, ‘he’s big!’ But he has such a sweet nature,” she said.
“The other day we were crossing at the bottom of Hill Road when a car cut me up. He suddenly stopped and I had been told, when he stops I should stop.
“I think I would have been hit if it wasn’t for him so he has already proved his worth.”
Museum welcomes Healey
Lizzie has been trained to walk several routes around Lyme Regis with Healey, thanks to help from trainers Kirsteen Welch and Sue Trevelyanm, including a walk into town, to Uplyme to visit her mother and to Lyme Regis Museum where she regularly volunteers.
“Healey volunteers with me now and everyone at the museum has been so good about it,” she commented.
“They said he is part of the museum family now too.”
Lizzie is planning to take Healey on the bus to Seaton so she can go to her regular gym and is also planning to take him on holiday to Jersey by plane.
She said many people are keen to come and say “hello” when they see her and Healey out and about, but she advised it is always best to ask the owner first before distracting a working Guide Dog.
Lizzie has virtually no sight in her left eye and pinhole vision in her right. She said she struggled to use a white cane around Lyme Regis because of its uneven and cobbled streets.
“I didn’t think you could get a Guide Dog unless you were completely blind but then I started looking into it more and decided it was the way to go. Now I wouldn’t be without Healey, he has been wonderful.
“It’s so nice to just be able to walk without having to think and worry and panic all the time. It feels so natural. It’s a whole different feeling of being safe and having my independence back.
“I had been so independent before but when my eyesight deteriorated I lost everything – my job, my friends, my independence. It really does impact your life so much.”
Lizzie says she hopes it will now be easier for others in Lyme Regis struggling with their eyesight to get Guide Dogs, and said this will be helped if a proposed pedestrian crossing is built in Broad Street.
“It will help so many people – the elderly, disabled, children. The pluses far outweigh the minuses,” she commented.
“Councillor Richard Doney is looking at Lyme Regis from a disability point of view in terms of access, and I hope this will go even further, including white lines, types of surfaces used and the amount of A-boards in Broad Street which are a real hazard.”
A camapign for a puffin crossing was launched in 2016 when Lizzie was told the town was too unsafe for a Guide Dog, and more than 600 residents signed a petition for it. Although she now has Healey, town councillors this month approved plans for the crossing to improve safety in general in Broad Street, despite earlier concerns over the effect this would have on parking and traffic congestion.