Turner, a handsome black Labrador eases into a well-earned retirement

PUBLISHED: 13:48 19 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:17 26 February 2013

Turner with Joan

Turner with Joan

Joan Milburn and her guide dog Turner have just ended an eight year partnership, writes Emily Rothery

Turner, a handsome black Labrador, has been a guide dog for Joan Milburn for eight years but now he is easing into a well-earned retirement.

Joan, who has been blind since the age of one after contracting meningitis, is an energetic 80-year-old great-grandmother and has had the support of eight guide dogs over the years. She has led a fascinating life, and despite only receiving three years of education as a youngster, has gone on to dedicate much of her time to educating todays younger generation.

She chats enthusiastically about the local schools that she visits to talk about her blindness and, of course, she always takes Turner with her. The children love to meet the special dog who is keenly attuned to Joans needs and demonstrates remarkable skills. For instance, how many dogs do you know who know left from right and will walk backwards and forwards on command?

Joan and Turner are regular visitors to South Walney Junior School which is situated just around the corner from their house. The Year 5 teacher, Melissa McPortland, says: The children always gain a greater understanding about living with a disability through Joans real life experiences. They are especially amazed by the talents of Turner. The dog calmly accepts their attention with good manners. Joan and Turner also promote The Blind Society and Guide Dogs for the Blind Association at sessions with adult groups.

Turner came to her aged 17 months after completing specialist training in Bolton. He had been carefully matched to Joans height, speed of walking and lifestyle and continued his training for a short time after coming to live with her. Turner settled in immediately and continues to give Joan confidence and independence when walking around the familiar streets of Walney Island. He guides Joan around obstacles, obediently follows her commands for directions and will not move at a crossing point if there is traffic coming along the road.

His job is a very responsible one and he is totally dependable but Joan tells me that they still have fun together. Turner is nearly 11 and greying at the muzzle but despite his advancing years is still playful. As Joan and I chat he offers me his favourite cushion and fixes me with an expectant look in the hope that I will engage in play. Joan describes him as a cheeky but lovely, calm boy. The interaction between them is warm and affectionate and they make a very good team.

Joan has already begun training sessions with the younger dog that has been chosen to take over Turners special role. She will be sad to see her trusty old companion go but, ever pragmatic, is happy in the knowledge that he has already found a good home with the local Police Community Support Officer, Gail O Neill, who has known Joan and Turner for many years. They will stay in close contact as Turner moves on to take a well deserved rest with his new family - Gail, her husband Paul and their five elderly cats.

Do you know of a remarkable pet that deserves to be featured in Lancashire Life? If so, drop us a line at letters@lancashirelife.co.uk. Since writing this feature Turner has moved to his new home and, true to form, has happily adjusted to his new life. Gail describes him as a dream dog.

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