The Dyldam Parramatta Eels have lent their support to the Guide Dogs NSW/ACT ’Respect My Uniform’ campaign, urging the community not to distract working guide dogs in their harnesses. 

As the Eels prepare to take on the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs this Friday night, Parramatta players were joined by labrador puppies at the Eels Training Centre, alongside Parramatta Eels Member Liz Wheeler and her Guide Dog Poppi.

Poppi, who is also a proud Eels Pet Member, has been partnered with Liz since May 2015, and has completely transformed her life. 

“It is really great to have Poppi with me. I have been losing my vision for some time now, and I had been using a cane before I got Poppi to get to the games but since I got her, we live locally so she can literally walk me from my house, through the gates, up the stairs and to my seat,” Wheeler said.

“It is just really great to be so independent and to be able to do that.”

“It is a real family atmosphere where we sit and I always feel really welcome and comfortable at the games to be able to say hi to everyone, I feel really settled and respected when I’m there,” Wheeler added.

And Liz isn’t the only one there to cheer on the Blue and Gold, saying Poppi was a huge Eels fan too.

“Getting her used to going there, because the crowd boos and she gets a bit funny around negativity so I keep dog food in my pocket and give her a bit of a treat, and whenever the team scores, I would give her a treat,” Wheeler said.

“Now whenever we score and the crowd goes wild, she is tapping on my leg asking for her food!”

“She loves it and goes nuts. If we are watching the game at home in the lounge room, she is jumping up and down out of the seat so it’s a full event,” Wheeler added.

Timed with International Guide Dog Day, the ‘Respect My Uniform’ campaign aims to educate the community that a well-intentioned pat can undo months of training, and frequent distraction can cause anxiety or serious injury for Guide Dogs and their handlers. 

“It is actually quite dangerous. I have had issues almost falling through the gaps on trains to inadvertently being dragged up the wrong side of an escalator because somebody has reached or called to her,” Wheeler said.

“When you have lost your sight, it takes a lot of courage and strength to get back out into the community and you can feel vulnerable, so when an unknown person is in your personal space, it can make you feel unsafe.”

“From those two perspectives, it is just really important to love the dog from a distance.”

And Wheeler was very thankful to Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and the generous donations from the public who have contributed to changing her life.

“I owe them so much. They have been absolutely phenomenal,” Wheeler said.

“Poppi costs about $35,000 to raise and they have been with me for years, giving me training, using the cane. They even gave me an Eels coloured cane to try and get my confidence back and get me out there.”

“If I need the help, they are there. They are totally funded through donations, and receive no government funding what so ever, so eveyr person who has dropped some money in, or has made a donation, has really contributed to changing lives like mine.”

You can support Guide Dogs by visiting the Guide Dogs website here.