Lifelong Hammers fan and guide dog owner Chris Petrou,
from Ilford in Essex, is currently starring on a special page of
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association's website, in
celebration of the 75th anniversary of the first guide dogs in the
Chris, 49, is one of 75 guide dog owners from across the UK to be featured during 2006 to commemorate the day in 1931 that the first four guide dogs led their pioneering blind owners to independence.
Chris, who is the proud owner of guide dog Tiffany, says: "The emotional and financial shock of registering blind was immense, and I took about a year sorting myself out; then another nearly 15 months getting rehabilitation training. I was taught to use a long cane, and then I applied for a guide dog. I couldn't believe what good company a guide dog can be, as well as restoring my independence. Now Tiffany and I are up for any amount of travel which Hammers fixtures put our way.
"When I was on my own, winter games, when it was already going dark at 5pm, were frustrating and the crowds were intimidating. It wasn't just about feeling vulnerable - although that came into it - there was a definite sense that I couldn't any longer 'let go' and really enjoy the game, because there was always something to worry about.
"As soon as I got my confidence as a new guide dog owner, training Tiffany to pace herself with the football crowds, to take me in the lift and up to our third floor seats, was the first new thing I tried. I would never have dreamed that I could take a guide dog to football matches, but even away fixtures present no problem."
The new 75th Anniversary Extraordinary Partnerships page of the Guide Dogs' website - www.guidedogs.org.uk/75partnerships - is dedicated to celebrating the unique partnerships between guide dogs and their owners. The page features inspirational stories about the ways in which guide dogs have transformed the lives of their visually-impaired owners by providing independence, dignity, confidence and freedom of mobility.
Guide dog training in Britain began with a journey of faith in Wallasey, Cheshire, in 1931 when four blind pioneers - Allen Caldwell, G W Lamb, Musgrave Frankland and Thomas Ap Rhys - took the first tentative steps into a new world of opportunity with four very special German Shepherd dogs; Flash, Meta, Judy and Folly - the first four guide dogs.
Three years later, in 1934 The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was founded. Today, Guide Dogs is the world's largest breeder and trainer of assistance dogs. There are currently around 4,700 working guide dog partnerships in the UK, and around 1,000 guide dog pups are born every year.
The charity hopes many thousands of people will visit the 75th Extraordinary Partnerships page of its website to find out how, three-quarters of a century on, guide dogs are enriching the lives of blind and partially-sighted people in the same way the first four guide dogs changed the lives of their pioneering blind owners.
Click here to read Chris Petrou's full story.