In Rennes, Jean and Ronnie, his guide dog, start their “new life” – Rennes

Sitting on the grass of Square Ludovic Trarieux, in Rennes, Jean Hamel with a smile on his lips. At her feet stands Ronnie, a two-year-old Labrador, who is fulfilling his first mission as a guide dog. They found each other, thanks to the Association Guide Dogs for the Blind of the West. Their system, which is based entirely on donations, without any canvassing, makes it possible to hand over guide dogs free of charge. “The average price is €25,000 otherwise”, explains Bastien, educator of the associative branch in Pont-Scorff, the only one in Brittany, “not counting the reforms”. At this price, knowing that it is an aid not considered by social security, “impossible” to imagine having a dog without the association, believes Jean.

Their new life, as Jean says with satisfaction, begins after months of preparation. The first meeting took place a few months ago, in the spring. “Jean and Ronnie’s files stuck well, we had to see if it worked in reality,” explains Elsa, an educator in training. “We came here, to Rennes, we tested a very simple route to see if the walking pace corresponded”. This is one of many criteria that are observed by educators when linking records. Bastien specifies: “The dog must correspond to family life, to the countryside or to the city center, to the pace of walking, to very different characters”.

Jean, a life among dogs and horses

At Jean’s home, Ronnie’s arrival was not complicated. “We have always had dogs at home,” he explains. Since the meeting with the dog, in May, the children of the fiftieth and his wife are just as eager. “They were asking, where is Ronnie, when is she coming? laughs the former athlete. He who has always worked with horses, first as a jockey then as a specialist in their training, lived until the beginning of the year near Bécherel. He made his request a year and a half ago, knowing that they would have moved by the handover. “I wanted to be posed before accepting a dog”.

Jean first went to Pont-Scorff, where the guide dog school is located, for a stopover of one or two days. “Not everyone can have a dog, you have to be fit,” he says. Suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease declared around the age of 40, Jean gradually lost his sight. He perceives today only shadows, pastel colors, flashes of light. “I can’t see you there, for example, but I can see the grass,” he explains, tapping the green with the flat of his hand. “Ahead of the evidence of locomotion, you need to have a certain sense of orientation”, specifies the master.

The educators complete, “The dog cannot learn all the courses, it is Jean who leads and Ronnie is there to give the obstacles. You have to know his routes, know how to tell the dog left or right”. For a year, once his request was validated, Jean reinforced his preparation for this new phase with an educator. While he was doing this work, the dog that was to be his new partner was also finishing his training.

Ronnie, Jean Hamel’s first guide dog, was handed over this week near Rennes. (The Telegram / Elissa Abou Merhi)

Ronnie, two, Labrador and professional guide dog

Ronnie was born in Angers, at the parent company of the Association Les Chiens Guides d’Aveugles de l’Ouest, two years ago. She was quickly sent to Pont-Scorff to follow her training there. Labrador, Ronnie is of a race which, with the Golden Retriever, lends itself particularly to this trade, specifies Elsa. “His quality is his closeness to people. This is important for us, because these are dogs that will be in foster families, then in the hands of educators and finally of their masters”.

The young guide dog began his journey with a foster family, “to learn how to be a good companion dog”. A year later, she “goes to boarding school”, laughs Elsa. The educator in training explains: during the week, she joins the school in Pont-Scorff to “attack the work of guide dog”. “Everything that is innate must put it aside and work on other things that are learning,” says Bastien.

About fifty orders are assimilated in this way. “I have some left in reserve then, I only know 25!” interrupts Jean with a burst of laughter. It is at his side that she will continue her life, until her retirement age. “From the age of 8, they come back to the stage every year, and we start preparing for retirement. The maximum is really 12 years, ”explains Bastien. “In the 8 years that I have been in Pont-Scorff, it has only happened twice, for dogs in very good physical health and very careful”.

Jean Hamel receives, after a year and a half of formalities, his guide dog, Ronnie, given by the association Les Chiens Guides d'Aveugles de l'Ouest.
Jean Hamel receives, after a year and a half of formalities, his guide dog, Ronnie, given by the association Les Chiens Guides d’Aveugles de l’Ouest. (The Telegram / Elissa Abou Merhi)

A new life-changing companion

Patting his dog’s side, Jean adds with a smile that he hopes so much. The link turned between the master and his female dog is obvious, the latter already all towards him. She doesn’t leave him, and that makes the former jockey smile. His educator, Elsa, confides with a chuckle that Ronnie has quickly abandoned them since she has been with him. Even if the follow-up continues regularly, it is now up to Jean to take over. “We went for a walk yesterday, they stayed behind, to see if things were going well”, begins the master.

While assuming that a guide dog helps to create social ties, outside, the educators especially remember that Ronnie, when she guides Jean, is on duty. “People come more easily when you have a dog. Maybe even too much sometimes, ”says Bastien. “When the dog is at work, it’s good that they don’t come or at least ask the person if it’s possible or not”. A job that involves, as a bonus, a strong concentration.

“At first it’s not easy, you have to get into the march. We’re all a little crispy, then it thins out. It didn’t go too badly, ”he says, turning his head towards the educators. The latter have a smile, reassuring: “It went very well”. Over the days, the fiftieth will get used to it, even if some things will always be difficult for him. “The bicycles, we do not hear them coming”, he explains for example. “Warning is simply what we are asking for. A little ringing of the bell is enough”. A small gesture, for the better living together.

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