Mount Gambier man's friendship with guide dog opens up world of adventure – ABC News


Mount Gambier man's friendship with guide dog opens up world of adventure
Having 5-per-cent vision can leave you vulnerable in some situations.
Like receiving the wrong audiobook and only being able to find out when you are halfway through it — just ask 39-year-old Paul Manfrin.
"My order got confused with an older lady's erotic tales," Mr Manfrin said.
"I was quite confused when I first got it, and she was quite angry because she got historical fiction."
At 18 years old, Mr Manfrin's friends were just starting to drive — but not him.
A university student in Adelaide, he found reading the overhead projector in lecture rooms increasingly difficult.
Expecting to need glasses like everyone else, he went on to find out he had cone-rod dystrophy — a rare disorder where those affected experience vision loss over time.
"It was pretty devastating," he said.
"You lose your independence as soon as you lose your ability to drive. Your reliance on other people is hard to get used to, and it took me a long time."
In the 20 years since then, his eyesight has deteriorated to 5 per cent.
"But I've realised for me to live a normal life, I just need to bite my pride and accept it. And that's where I am now," he said.
Rather than journeying his vision loss on his own, he now shares it with labrador Bree — his guide dog of four years.
They live together with Mr Manfrin's wife Yunita and two teenage children in Mount Gambier on South Australia's Limestone Coast.
It's their constant time together that's inspired him to start a blog, Me and Bree, documenting the adventures they've been able to share.
"[I wanted to] educate people about the life that I have and the struggles but also the great things that I get to enjoy as well," Mr Manfrin said.
"I [may] have about 5 per cent vision left, but life goes on at 100 per cent."
"My name is Paul, but the real star of the show is Bree, a seven-year-old black Labrador," — Me and Bree blog.
After 20 years of living with a visual impairment, Mr Manfrin was wary of the suggestion of getting a guide dog in 2018.
"Because you don't just get a dog, and that's it. There's quite a lot of training involved," he said.
It took 12 months for Mr Manfrin and Bree to really understand each other.
"Bree is an independent sort of dog," he said.
"She likes to do things her way sometimes, and that independence really clashed in the start.
"But we've developed a hybrid system [now] where she's in charge sometimes, and I'm in charge as well."
Probably a good thing because they spend all their time together. While a great dog, she does have her flaws.
Easily distracted by food and people, Bree will often lead Mr Manfrin into obstacles such as chairs or electricity poles.
"She just can't help it. She's a labrador," he said.
As someone with limited vision, Mr Manfrin relies on light and shade — a lot.
"If there's too much light, it's too glary. If it's not enough light, I can't see what I'm doing," he said.
Mr Manfrin's dilemma is highlighted in one blog post in particular.
"One day after work, I was feeling pretty enthusiastic. I went out to the shed and wheeled out the trusty lawnmower, filled it up with fuel and went to cut the lawn." — Me and Bree blog.
As the light started falling, Mr Manfrin's wife and two children arrived home to inform him he'd started mowing their next-door neighbour's lawn.
Other insights Mr Manfrin offers involve skipping lines, running into birds, and the trials and tribulations of picking up dog poo.
Mr Manfrin also loves going to the cinema, an experience he shares with readers too.
"It's amazing when you lose one sense, the others get stronger. I have an acute sense of smell, and my hearing is pretty good, except my wife thinks I'm deaf as a post," — Me and Bree blog.
"I enjoy hearing my kids laughing at a funny scene. I get a buzz out of listening to other people's reaction. There are parts of the movie I may not follow, but usually someone fills me in, or I just join the dots and make my own sense of the story."
When Mr Manfrin took Bree to the movies for the first time, he was worried about how she would behave.
It turned out, quite well.
He found out from his wife afterwards that Bree had managed to eat all the popcorn on the floor in the two-metre-radius around them.
Bree has acted as a bridge between Mr Manfrin and new people in many cases. 
"They're more interested in engaging with me. Whereas with the cane, there wasn't as much interaction," Mr Manfrin said.
"I sort of like the novelty and the anonymity."
While Mr Manfrin'ss condition has kept his life challenging, he sees it as very exciting.
"Especially with Bree in my life as well," he said.
"She's also a great motivator for me. She's given me confidence to do a lot of things."
The company is also appreciated.
"We have one-on-one chats, even though it's one direction," he said.
"But sometimes it feels like she's there listening to me. I've enjoyed spending a lot of time with her."
It's these adventures that you can read about in Paul's blog Bree and Me.
"Sometimes it's very hard for me to explain [my visual impairment] but to write it in an article and to make it comical and humorous, often people will relate to it."
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