FOUR years ago, Slaithwaite woman Wendy Wood began losing her sight.

But now, she has been given a new pair of `eyes' - in the form of guide dog Leah.

Wendy, 41, welcomed two-year-old yellow labrador Leah into her home in October.

Leah was given to Wendy by The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

She says since then, her life has totally changed.

"It's been fantastic. I have got so much more confidence now."

Wendy suffers from a condition called retinis pigmentosa, which affects one in 4,000 people and is hereditary.

She has difficulty seeing during the day and is totally night blind.

But with Leah to guide her, Wendy says she can now go shopping and enjoy nights out.

These were things Wendy took for granted until her diagnosis.

At the time, she was a mental health nursing student at Huddersfield University.

While studying, she began to notice blank spots at the bottom of her vision field.

She went to her opticians who referred her to specialists.

After seeing specialists at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and London's Moorfield Eye Hospital, Wendy was told she had RP and there was no cure.

However, she did not give up hope and made three visits to a Chinese doctor in Vancouver, Canada, for acupuncture.

It helped but she needed to return every 90 days for it to be fully effective - and three sessions alone had cost £15,000.

Wendy, husband Andy and their children Mark, 18, Heather, 17, and Adam, 14, all made money-saving sacrifices.

But the money ran out and Wendy's condition deteriorated again.

So she turned to Guide Dogs for the Blind for help.

It can take up to a year to get a guide dog - but Wendy was lucky.

She contacted the charity in July and got Leah within four months.

Around 1,000 pups are born every year to the Guide Dogs for the Blind's brood bitches.

At the age of six weeks they are sent to `puppy walkers', who train the dogs in basic obedience skills and get them used to going out in public.

Then, at the age of 12 months, the dogs go to specialist Guide Dogs for the Blind training schools to learn how to become guides.

After around eight months they are ready to be placed with a blind owner.

Before moving into their new home, the dogs spend around three weeks training with their new owner.

Guide Dogs for the Blind trainers are on hand to help while the dog learns its owner's needs and the owner learns to trust the dog to keep them out of danger.

Wendy said she now feels comfortable and confident with Leah leading her.

"As a family pet she's so different from when she's working. She's a two-year old puppy.

"But as soon as the harness and lead go on, Leah is on duty - a guide dog, ready to play her role in our partnership, enhancing my independence.

"The bond is so close, and not just with me trusting Leah, but her trusting me."

Leah has fitted right into Wendy's family home.

Wendy has to be more strict with Leah than with a normal dog in order to keep her well-trained.

For example, while most dogs enjoy a pat from a stranger, when Leah is working this only serves as a distraction.

Wendy has two other dogs and a cat, so to make sure Leah does not feel left out, she has treats too!

Wendy said: "Leah's not bothered that she's not allowed to do some things.

"But I've stopped them having so many treats to make it fair. So they've had to adjust quite a bit. Now they all play together."

Wendy will have Leah for around six years - the average working life of a guide dog.

But after she retires, Leah can be kept on as a family pet, or re-homed.

A blind person often has around eight guide dogs in their lifetime.

As well as giving her Leah, Wendy said Guide Dogs for the Blind had supported her a lot since her diagnosis.

She said: "The support I have had from them is unbelievable.

"They have visually impaired people working for them, so they understand what you are going through.

"Even if you just want someone to listen they are there."

But she finds it incredible that Guide Dogs for the Blind has to rely totally on donations to fund its activities.

She said: "I cannot believe that the Government does not help people with severe visual impairments.

"People who have limbs amputated can get prosthetics on the NHS, but nothing is provided for people who lose their sight.

"Leah is my eyes and the Government should contribute in some way to fund that.

"I would encourage everybody to support Guide Dogs for the Blind.

"Anything people contribute is so appreciated by the people they help - like me."

If you want to help The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association either by volunteering of fundraising, contact 0870 6002323 or visit

* The association was founded in 1934, but the modern guide dog story started in Germany in 1916-17 when the dogs were trained to lead soldiers blinded in the First World War.

* The charity provides blind and partially-sighted people with the freedom and independence a guide dog gives.

* It is a world leader in breeding and training guide dogs.

* It runs campaigns to raise public awareness of the importance of eye health. Visit for more information.

* It is one of the largest funders of ophthalmic research.

* It campaigns for the rights of the blind and partially-sighted community, particularly on mobility and access issues.

* The charity is supported by an army of volunteers, including brood-stock holders, puppy walkers, dog boarders and thousands of local fundraisers.

* At any one time its supports about 5,000 guide dog partnerships in the UK.

* Every year it breeds more than 1,000 guide dog puppies. It costs around £10 per day to breed, train and care for each guide dog.

* The working life of a guide dog is about seven years. Many owners have several dogs over the years.

* The charity places and supports retired dogs with voluntary "adopters".

* The charity needs more than £40m a year to continue its work and runs entirely on voluntary donations.