‘IT’S like looking through clingfilm’ is the way Paul Farrell describes his faltering vision following years of alcohol abuse.
Paul, of French Terrace, Langwith, has been a big drinker for over two decades and has helplessly watched the booze bulldoze through his life, destroying relationships, his family and career and almost his future.
The recovering alcoholic who is celebrating two years sober, is now left counting the cost of alcohol overtaking his life and driving roughshod through his body making him an addict to the liquid demon.
Not only has his eyesight been affected, rendering him almost blind, but his general state of health is shocking for a man of just 41.
But there is ‘light at the end of the dark tunnel’ as Paul has been given a lifeline in the form of a four-legged friend called Bronte - his guide dog and ‘knight in shining armour’.
“I have a life again because of Bronte,” explains Paul who is being visited in his home by David Locklin from the Guide Dogs charity organisation.
“When I started losing my sight I became a recluse. I was too nervous to go out of my house as I would panic if I went anywhere.
“I used a cane but people didn’t seem to understand
why I used it and would throw abuse my way because of their own narrow mindedness. I was forced to fold it up and put it in my pocket until I got to Mansfield.”
It was suggested to Paul through Sight Support Derby that he apply for a guide dog. After fulfilling all the criteria, which included being independent enough to care for a dog, have a number of lifestyle destinations to make the dog useful and the determination to learn the methods needed to work withthe dog, Paul was matched with the animal that was right for him.
“I have my confidence back now thanks to Bronte who makes me feel safe,” added Paul. “It’s very daunting when you lose your sight but now things are not as bad as they were. I envisioned myself sat at home just listening to the archers day after day but Bronte gives me the boost I needed to get out and return to parts of my life.
“Bronte has helped close the chapter of worry and opened up new avenues. She has also become a constant companion and friend.”
It costs £50,000 for each guide dog from the start of its life to the end but for Paul and people like him they are priceless.
“We breed about 1,000 dogs a year,” explained David, who is the services delivery manager for this area. “From six weeks old they are handed to puppy walkers - volunteers who test them in different environments.
“They then undergo advanced training for 10-12 weeks specifically learning tasks for their new owner and their routes to the shops or church or wherever they go on a regular basis. The new owner is then given two weeks intensive handler training before being allowed to take the dog home.
“The dog is the pilot and the handler becomes his co-pilot stopping at kerbs, avoiding obstacles and staying on the pavements.”
With a waiting list of 12-18 months people may criticise the charity for selecting Paul above others given his circumstances, but David is quick to dismiss this.
“The reason is not relevant to the need and we are not here to point the finger but simply to support Paul on his journey forward.”
And Paul recognises how lucky he is to be given this animal who is more than a pet but someone he can trust with his life.
“I might not have my sight but I now have my life back.”