Happy stepping out with Fletcher

Petronella Spicer and her guide dog Fletcher, in Dunedin yesterday. The pair  are prepared for the Papatowai Challenge in the Catlins today. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Petronella Spicer and her guide dog Fletcher, in Dunedin yesterday. The pair are prepared for the Papatowai Challenge in the Catlins today. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

A blind Christchurch woman is ready to walk the scenic Papatowai Challenge at noon today.

Petronella Spicer (57) has completed the annual Papatowai Challenge in the Catlins five times.

Her 4-year-old guide dog, Fletcher, had completed the 15.5km walk once and would guide Mrs Spicer across a course of bush tracks, beaches and roadways again today, she said.

''It's beautiful down in the Catlins, such lovely scenery,'' Mrs Spicer said.

The other competitors she paced with described the scenic surroundings to her as she walked.

Both Mrs Spicer and Fletcher appreciated the estimates of the distance to the water stops, at 5km and 10km.

''He has a drink out of the cups.''

The pair had been together for two years, since her former guide dog, Winnie, retired, she said.

She urged people to give to the Red Puppy Appeal collectors on March 28 and 29 because the Government did not fund the training of guide dog puppies.

''Without the money raised, I could never, ever afford to have a guide dog ... the fund-raising is so important for giving blind and low vision people independence.''

The training cost about $30,000, Mrs Spicer said.

Although Fletcher had been trained with the same commands as Winnie, it took a month for him to learn Mrs Spicer's walking routes, including her 10km walk to work as a Blind Foundation volunteer co-ordinator.

- shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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