A singer from Bexley has been waiting for a guide dog for more than two years after first applying when the Covid pandemic began.

Taylor Notcutt, a singer and vocal coach from Bexley, is one of the 50 people in London currently waiting for a guide dog, having first applied in 2019.

Taylor lives with Leber Congenital Amaurosis, a genetic condition leaving her with limited sight in both eyes, night blindness, colour blindness and short sightedness.

Having limited sight, she relies on the use of a long guiding cane to navigate the world using various techniques.

She told the News Shopper that she applied for a guide dog as she felt that she had to start turning down work opportunities as a result of not feeling as confident or safe travelling at night.

Taylor’s work as a singer and member of a band often means travelling and working in the evening.

Taylor explained: “I decided to apply for a guide dog because I felt that I was at a point in my life where I needed a lot more independence.

“I was getting busy with my vocal coaching, and I felt that I was almost turning down work, because I was working a lot later and I didn't feel confident and super safe going out at certain times of night with a cane.

“And I thought a dog would give me a lot more independence and freedom.

“It would mean I could expand where I work, different locations, working later, getting public transport more than I would normally, like tubes and trains.

“I feel like I'd feel a lot safer as well, as a female having a dog next to me rather than a cane. I think people respect dogs more than canes as well.

“So I think it would just feel, in every aspect, so much better than my current situation.”

When Covid hit, Taylor’s application was ground to a halt as she was about to have the second stage of her assessment in March 2020 just as the UK went into the first lockdown.

New and reapplying guide dog owners have to undergo some assessments to assess their lifestyle, walking speed and needs to help the charity select the best dog to fit their individual needs.

Taylor explained: “I first applied for a guide dog in 2019 and was about to have a face-to-face interview and then Covid happened.

“It was just such a frustrating time because I was at the last stage of my assessment before being put onto the wait list, but everything just got put on hold.”

Eventually as lockdown restrictions began to ease, Taylor’s guide dog assessment was completed, and she was added to the wait list for a guide dog in June 2021.

Taylor said: “ Once I passed the guide dog assessment, I was told initially it was going to be a year and a half to two years.

“On June 17 I’d have been on the actual waiting list for a guide dog for two years, not counting the time before when I had first applied.

“Hopefully I could get a guide dog this summer, but it’s not a certainty.” It isn’t just Taylor’s application that has been delayed, but nationally the current average waiting time for people on the wait list for a guide dog is 14.9 months.

The Guide Dogs UK charity has said that many of its services were affected due to Covid, which has increased wait times for people waiting for a guide dog.

In London this increases to 21.3 months due to the “additional challenges” of working a dog in central London, such as escalators and busy public transport networks.

However, training a guide dog isn’t a simple or a swift process and it is impacted by each would-be owners would be circumstances.

Training a guide dog can take between 20 – 30 weeks from the time they are first assigned with a guide dog trainer at around the age of one-years-old.

Training with a guide dog in London also has additional factors to consider such as working in busy environments, the requirement to use escalators for some owners and the need to use public transport.

Luke Hughes, Operations Manager for Canine Assisted Services for the London Community Team said: “In London we’ve got just over 50 people waiting for a guide dog with waiting times of just over 20 months.

“Covid definitely did have an impact on that.

“Guide dogs need to negotiate someone safely in an environment, navigating around obstacles and stopping at kerbs so that someone doesn't walk into the road.

“But they also act to find things for people like doorways, shops, crossing boxes, even things like an empty chair on a Tube.

“We aim for about 20-22 weeks with our newer training pathway, but some dogs do take up to 30 weeks.

“But if they need more time, then we give them more time, if we think they can be successful as a guide dog.”

A spokesperson for Guide Dogs UK said that the pandemic forced the charity to pause its breeding and training program, adding significant wait times onto services.

They added that staff and volunteers are “committed” to creating successful guide dog and owner partnerships and that there were services available for people needing support whilst they wait for a guide dog.

The full statement from Guide Dogs UK said: “During the pandemic, Guide Dogs had no option but to pause breeding and training of our dogs to keep our staff, volunteers, and service users safe. But the impact of Covid didn’t stop for us once lockdown lifted and we are still feeling the impact.

“All our staff and volunteers are more determined than ever to support more visually impaired people and are focused on creating more successful partnerships as the impact of Covid reduces over the next few years.

“It is vital that we create guide dog partnerships that last, so we take each person’s individual requirements and needs carefully into consideration when matching them with a guide dog.

“Someone with more complex requirements and needs may wait longer, depending on their circumstances.

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“We know this can be difficult, so we offer a range of alternative support while they wait, and our Vision Rehabilitation Specialists help anyone who is on our Ready to Train programme, who may want help with anything from learning routes they may use every day, to life skills in the home.

“The best way that people can help is simply to get involved – whether that’s through volunteering to be a Training Dog Fosterer or My Sighted Guide or through raising money in their local community.

“If someone would like to help out, we would always encourage them to get in touch at information@guidedogs.org.uk.”