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Guide Dogs head for shopping centre

Ipswich’s busy Sailmakers Shopping Centre will become guide dog central this week when volunteers from the popular charity call in.

It’s all part of National Guide Dog Week and there will be a chance to meet the dogs, the puppy trainees and the trainers – and even to buy some Guide-Dog-inspired poetry – at the Centre for three days from Thursday, October 6, to Saturday, October 8.

Sailmakers is a popular spot for training guide dogs and one of the regulars there is puppy walker Penny Parker who has taken on her 11th puppy and has just written a book of poems about guide dogs and puppies.

Entitled Through The Eyes Of A Dog, it costs £5, has had a print run of 1,000 copies and has been sponsored by local businesspeople with the proceeds going to the East and Mid Suffolk branch of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Penny said: “We’re delighted to be back at Sailmakers for the fourth year in a row because we have a real connection with the shopping centre which is an ideal training area for young guide dog puppies.

“The book is going very well and we’ve already raised enough money for our first guide dog, called Astra, and are working towards our second which will be called Umber.

“I’m on puppy number 11 myself and her name is Sky who is 13 months old and I’m just waiting to hear if she is going to go for breeding or as a guide dog.

“Sailmakers is ideal for training. It’s got everything with lifts and stairs, automatic doors and lots of people.”

The Centre also has a permanent Guide Dog resident in the form of a Labrador statue collection box affectionately known as ‘Big Fred’ which every year raises over £800 for the charity.

Mike Sorhaindo, Manager of Sailmakers Shopping Centre, said: “Big Fred has become something of a local landmark here and since the refurbishment of the centre last year he has had a new home by the Ipswich Building Society.

“He’s still doing a great job there and we’re happy to support such a worthy charity and we’re pleased to have the trainee guide dogs come here to help them learn the wonderful skills that are such a benefit to their owners.”

Penny added: “My current dog actually finds Big Fred a bit alarming but that’s just another training scenario so we do visit quite a lot.

“The staff at Sailmakers have been brilliant and always accompany us when we go to empty Big Fred and they are very helpful to all of us.”

For more information on Sailmakers go to www.sailmakersshopping.co.uk or Facebook www.facebook.com/SailmakersShopping

• Pictured top: Sailmakers Shopping Centre Manager Mike Sorhaindo and guide dog Ivy with guide dog owners and their dogs at the Centre.

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